Healdsburg’s Memorial Bridge, closed for more than a year for extensive reinforcement and rehab, is ready for its next 100 years of life.
The bridge, shut for renovation since Labor Day last year, will reopen to traffic next week, seismically and structurally more sound, with a new center pier, deck and railings and a fresh coat of paint.
“It’s a solid, well built, well rehabilitated structure,” Healdsburg Senior Engineer Mario Landeros said Tuesday on a tour of the 94-year-old span over the Russian River.
The two-lane bridge will reopen to motor vehicles Oct. 28, probably sometime in the afternoon, but with no fanfare, according to city officials.
A dedication ceremony is anticipated for early February after all the finishing touches — including a traffic light on one end and 10 orb-shaped, Roaring ’20s-replica bridge lamps — are installed. Rather than being lighted with incandescent bulbs of the past, the lamps will be LED-powered.
“We’re going back to the original historic look, from the original design,” Landeros said of the lighting, as well as the duplication of a seminal concrete barrier design and other touches.
Landeros said the total cost of the job will be about $12 million, including supplemental work and contingencies — pretty much within the allocated budget and on time. Almost 90 percent of the funding was federal.
During the bridge closure, the 8,500 or so vehicles that cross daily have had to use the Highway 101 bridge downstream. Bicyclists and pedestrians were still able to cross during construction.
Reopening the bridge will help alleviate traffic congestion on Healdsburg Avenue, which was worse during the closure, according to Public Works Director Brent Salmi.
Built in 1921, the vintage, steel-truss span, also known as the Healdsburg Avenue Bridge, became part of the Redwood Highway, stretching from the Golden Gate to Oregon. It was in danger of being demolished after it was given a poor safety grade from Caltrans in 1979. Three decades later, the state agency acknowledged the rating system was faulty and the bridge could carry all legal loads.
But time and rust took their toll. Experts said the bridge was seismically deficient and “scour critical,” meaning there were doubts about its ability to withstand earthquakes, as well as erosion at its base during a huge flood.
The city considered tearing down the bridge and replacing it with a boxy, wider span similar to the more modern Highway 101 crossing just downstream.
Preservationists were relieved five years ago when the City Council decided to fix up the old bridge, reflecting the popularity of the town landmark. Subsequently, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
The rehab has included driving 7-foot-diameter, steel-reinforced concrete piles 80 feet into the river to build a new, stronger foundation for the center pier to replace the original wooden piles. That noisy work could be heard throughout the town for a couple of weeks in July.
The bridge footing has modern, lead bearings encased in thick rubber housing designed to act as shock absorbers during an earthquake.
On Tuesday, workers were busy putting finishing touches on curbs and gutters on the bridge approaches, where asphalt will be laid down Saturday.
Landeros scurried into a narrow opening between a temporary wooden platform and the bottom of the bridge, where he pointed out some of the original steel support beams stamped “Carnegie USA.”