A sturdy new bridge has been built into tiny Alta, six months after one of the most severe winters in recent history washed out the main road into the mountain hamlet.
It was in January during intense storms that Morton Road washed away. Storm debris and water roared down Canyon Creek and into the culvert below the road.
Canyon Creek washed out Morton Road, the street that connected Alta with nearby Interstate 80. About 10,000 cubic yards of dirt and 80 feet of asphalt roadway were swept away.
The watery wipe-out isolated 15 homes and the Sons of Norway Recreational Center off of Morton Road. In the days that followed, Alta residents were forced to use a steep, winding gravel road over private property to enter and exit their community, 60 miles east of Sacramento.
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Placer County’s Matt Randall, the project engineer for the bridge, said the culvert was installed decades ago by the state when nearby Interstate 80 was built. The county decided not to go with a culvert this time.
Instead, the county decided to build a bridge over Canyon Creek. The county looked at installing a bigger culvert but the bridge allowed easier construction in the bad weather than a culvert with new dirt.
“They had much less risk building a bridge than trying to build earth work in the rain when it is all muddy,” Randall said. “It ultimately ended up being a good choice. There were difficult conditions to build the bridge foundation but the contractor worked long hours through rain and intense heat at the end.”
Eventually, a pre-cast concrete girder bridge 115 feet long costing about $2.5 million was constructed. This week, the road officially reopened with the community coming out to celebrate, including lodge members carrying Norwegian flags.
A bridge, Randall said, restores the canyon to a more natural state, rather than a new culvert and dirt embankment.
“Basically, we just spanned over the creek’s natural topography,” he said.
He said fire trucks could not navigate the temporary road, so there was some urgency to getting the work done before the summer when fire is a danger.