The narrow, hazardous Newell Road bridge that connects Palo Alto and East Palo Alto could be replaced in 2014 with a broader, two-lane span, according to City of Palo Alto Senior Engineer Joe Teresi.
The 40-foot-long bridge, built in 1911 across San Francisquito Creek at Woodland Avenue and Newell, is considered functionally obsolete, he told about 30 residents from both East Palo Alto and Palo Alto last week at the first public meeting about the replacement plan. Drivers face a blind turn when traveling east to west and bump awkwardly over the raised pavement.
The 18-foot-wide roadway barely lets two vehicles in opposite directions pass, Teresi said.
The bridge replacement is part of a bigger San Francisquito Joint Powers Authority flood-management plan, which would improve creek flow from El Camino Real to U.S. Highway 101.
The existing bridge abutments are located within the creek bed, constricting the creek and causing the potential to overflow in a 100-year flood, he said.
The future upstream work would cause "more water than that bridge has ever seen" to rush down toward residences on both sides of the creek, Teresi said.
A 75-foot-long bridge with a 32-foot-wide roadbed and two 5-foot-wide sidewalks is planned. New flood walls would be added along the creek, and new retaining walls would be added at the Newell and Woodland intersection.
Two design options are under consideration. The first would keep the same bridge alignment across the creek; the second would shift the bridge to align with the East Palo Alto continuation of Newell, which currently jogs to the west. A new alignment would make a straight, four-way intersection with four-way stop signs.
Both designs would raise the bridge height and necessitate a raised roadway gradually sloping toward Newell on the Palo Alto side and Woodland on the East Palo Alto side.
Retaining walls could rise as high as 5 feet and would extend for about 300 feet on the Woodland side, which could affect some apartments, he said.
A retaining wall would also abut some Palo Alto properties. A driveway to one Palo Alto home to the south could be affected, but reconstruction would be paid for through public funds, he said. No residents would need to move.
About 3,500 cars utilize the bridge each day, Teresi said.
Residents described the current bridge as "scary," but others voiced concern that realigning the bridge to match with Newell in East Palo Alto could cause accidents.
"This bridge does one thing very well. It slows everybody down. One concern is that people are going to go rocketing across that bridge," a man said at last Wednesday's meeting.
Speed is one thing, but visibility is also important, residents said. They asked engineers to be mindful of the blind-corner hazards when they design the new bridge.
Another resident suggested that engineers collect accident data now to establish a benchmark for after the bridge is constructed. Then they would know if accidents had increased and could identify and fix any causes.
Engineers said that the idea of restricting the bridge to pedestrians and bicycles only has been discussed and ruled out.
A Caltrans grant is paying for 88.5 percent of the design and environmental-review costs, and Santa Clara Valley Water District will pay the remaining 11.5 percent, Teresi said.
Actual construction for the bridge, sidewalks and retaining walls are expected to cost $3 million. The city will apply to Caltrans for another 88.5 percent grant and expects to use local matching founds for the balance, he said.
The plan calls for the old bridge to be completely torn down and the crossing closed for four to six months, Teresi said. Construction is expected to last from April to September 2014.
The design and review could be completed by summer 2013.
Palo Alto is taking the management lead for the rebuild, but the city is coordinating with East Palo Alto, the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority and Santa Clara Valley Water District. The city has retained NV5, an engineering consulting firm, to assist with the design and environmental assessment.
A second community meeting is planned for next spring. Teresi said other public meetings include: In Palo Alto, the Architectural Review Board, Planning and Transportation Commission and the Public Art Commission; in East Palo Alto, the Planning Commission and the Public Works and Transportation Commission; and with the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority.
More information and maps will be posted on the project website at the city's website.