State offers Tower Bridge to Sacramento, West Sacramento

07/28/2014 12:00 AM

07/28/2014 7:13 AM

The Tower Bridge once was the grand entrance to Sacramento, escorting travelers on State Route 275 to the state Capitol steps. Today, for its owner, the state Department of Transportation, it’s become a bridge to nowhere.

Caltrans relinquished the highway on both sides of the bridge to Sacramento and West Sacramento a decade ago, cutting the bridge off from the rest of the state highway system. Its 737-foot span over the Sacramento River is the shortest highway in the state.

Caltrans now says it wants to give the vintage 1935 bridge to the two cities. It recently threw a sweetener into the offer, saying it’s willing to pay for five years of bridge maintenance costs after the cities take control. Caltrans also will rebuild the bridge’s “bumpers,” which protect the span’s support columns from being hit by errant boats and river debris such as logs.

Leaders in the two cities say they’re interested but have to kick the tires and run some numbers before making a final commitment. The annual cost of operating the bridge is estimated at $400,000, a Sacramento city staff report states. That includes paying for the operator and mechanisms to lift the bridge’s center span to make room when tall ships come through.

“It’s not a free puppy,” said Jerry Way, Sacramento’s director of public works. “There is a long-term commitment. We don’t want to take on a substantial financial burden for either city.”

Sacramento city officials last week agreed to sign a memorandum with Caltrans indicating they are willing to take control of half the bridge after they conduct a due-diligence review, if West Sacramento is on board.

West Sacramento City Manager Marty Tuttle said his city is interested in a creating a joint-powers authority with Sacramento to operate three bridges over the Sacramento River: the Tower Bridge and two planned new bridges, one at Broadway and a replacement for the I Street Bridge. The original I Street span will be used for train traffic.

But first, Tuttle said, his city wants Caltrans to agree to pay for West Sacramento’s costs to study the finances involved in taking control of its half of the Tower Bridge. Caltrans officials declined to comment on negotiations.

“We’re at the beginning of this process,” state spokesman Dennis Keaton said.

Way, the Sacramento Public Works director, said joint local control of the bridge would give the two cities more flexibility in developing their waterfronts and in using the bridge as a community event space.

Local groups have used the bridge in recent years for the Amgen Tour of California bicycle race, for a longhorn cattle drive, a fireworks show, and the “Farm to Fork” dinner on the bridge, where hundreds dined at a long table on the closed roadway. In each case, local officials had to obtain state encroachment permits.

The two cities also are working on a project to construct a streetcar line that would run across the bridge. That project is expected to move forward regardless of whether the state or local entities own the bridge.

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