Healdsburg officials are continuing to struggle with a way to get bicyclists and pedestrians across the Russian River when the Healdsburg Memorial Bridge is closed for a lengthy renovation next year.
Healdsburg Public Works Director Mike Kirn told the City Council on Monday he is "not holding out a lot of hope" that an adjacent railroad bridge can be used as an alternate crossing for cyclists and people on foot.
The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit agency, which owns the bridge, would probably allow it, Kirn said. Passenger trains aren't expected to be running across the bridge for several more years.
But the North Coast Railroad Authority, which plans to run freight trains on the tracks next year, is resistant, according to Kirn.
He said state Public Utilities Commission officials, who would weigh in on the issue too, also indicated they would not be supportive because "it would send mixed messages to the general public."
"On the one hand, they tell people not to walk the tracks," Kirn said. But that message would be contradicted if the railroad bridge is converted for use by pedestrians.
City officials are planning to close the Healdsburg Memorial Bridge to all traffic — including cars, bikes and pedestrians — for a major rehabilitation of the 91-year-old bridge late next year.
Kirn estimates the bridge would be closed for about one year while it is retrofitted with a new foundation and deck, along with other work.
Motorized vehicles will be able to use the Highway 101 bridge just downstream as an alternate.
But for cyclists and pedestrians, the closing of the Healdsburg Memorial Bridge poses a major dilemma.
Cyclists potentially have no other way to cross the river other than riding 10 miles out Westside Road, to Wohler Bridge near Forestville.
"I just think there's got to be a solution," said Councilman Tom Chambers, adding that "it's not going to be OK" to have no alternative crossing.
Councilman Jim Wood said it's frustrating. "We're looking at ways to get to &‘yes.' Other agencies are looking for a way to say &‘no,'" he said.
Members of the bicycling community and bike store owners said Memorial Bridge is a significant connector for pedaling commuters, as well as recreational cyclists.
One possibility is to allow them on the freeway shoulder or create a barrier separating cyclists along Highway 101. But city officials are reluctant to pursue that option, citing the narrowness of the road, along with safety and liability issues.
Both Mayor Gary Plass, a retired police sergeant, and Councilman Steve Babb, a former fire captain, noted they have seen the aftermath of accidents on Highway 101 in which cars careened off the bridge railings and across traffic lanes.
If city officials were able to gain permission to use the old railroad span, it could cost as much as $250,000 to adapt it, Kirn said. The bridge would need a platform for use by cyclists and pedestrians, along with other modifications to make it compliant for use by people with disabilities.
But almost 90 percent of the cost could be funded by state and federal grants, he said.
The city would also need to get property easements for approaches to the rail bridge.
Other alternatives that have been suggested include building some type of temporary or pontoon bridge, but rising winter water levels make that unlikely.