A flood-prone bridge that spans the San Francisquito Creek and connects Palo Alto and East Palo Alto could soon be replaced in an effort to boost traffic safety and flood control around the volatile creek.
The City Council will consider Monday night whether to request a grant that would help fund the design work for replacement of the Newell Road Bridge. The grant from the state Department of Transportation (Caltrans) would pay for about 89 percent of the engineering design and environmental review costs. The rest of the funding would come from the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority, an agency that includes officials from Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, Menlo Park, the Santa Clara Valley Water District and the San Mateo County Flood Control District.
The creek authority has long been scouring for ways to protect the three cities along the creek from a 100-year flood, which by definition is expected to take place once a century. Authority officials have determined that replacing the 100-year-old bridge is necessary to improve flood control in the area.
Water officials estimate that it will cost $360,000 to perform the necessary engineering design work and the environmental analysis. Caltrans has already inspected the bridge and has classified it as "functionally obsolete."
According to a report from Palo Alto Public Works Engineer Joe Teresi, the bridge's deficiencies include "substandard width, lack of access for bicycle and pedestrian traffic, harsh vertical profile, unsafe railings, and poor sight distances."
The new bridge would be about 75 feet long -- roughly twice as long as the existing one. It would include two traffic lanes, a bike path going in each direction and a curb on each side.
Though few dispute the need to upgrade or replace the bridge, the proposed design of the new bridge is already attracting criticism from residents of Palo Alto's Crescent Park neighborhood, which is next to the creek.
Norm Beamer, president of the Crescent Park Neighborhood Association, said many in his group believe the proposed bridge would be far too expansive for the area.
"People are thinking that it's out of scale for that small neighborhood environment," Beamer said. "Caltrans is doing perhaps its usual monumentalism approach to something that should be more low scale."
Beamer also said the city should do more to replace the Pope/Chaucer Street bridge, which was flooded in 1998. That bridge, however, has not been declared "functionally obsolete" by Caltrans and is not yet eligible for state funding.
This, however, should not stop the city from boosting flood protection around the bridge, Beamer said.
"We understand that the city should take the money where it can get it," Beamer said. "But it shouldn't be an excuse to sit back and say, 'We'll wait for Caltrain to declare the Chaucer Bridge obsolete.'"
Creek Authority officials hope to eventually replace or upgrade the Chaucer Street Bridge and the University Avenue Bridge, but only after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers complete a study determining these bridges' hydraulic-capacity deficiencies.
The creek authority also hopes to improve or replace the Middlefield Road Bridge, which has also been declared functionally obsolete and is eligible for grant funding.