Cost for new I Street Bridge hits $172 million after Coast Guard makes changes

The price tag for a new bridge across the Sacramento River has more than doubled, reaching $172 million.

The city Wednesday hired San Francisco-based T.Y. Lin International as the lead architect for the project, which will replace the I Street Bridge — which is more than 100 years old — and become the first new bridge to cross the river in more than 50 years.

When city officials began planning the project about four years ago, they estimated the total cost between $70 and $80 million, said Jesse Gothan, supervising engineer.

When city officials met with U.S. Coast Guard officials in 2015 and 2016, they learned the Coast Guard would require a gap of at least 272 feet wide for barges to pass through when the bridge’s lifts are up, Gothan said. That’s more than 100 feet wider than the current bridge.

The request more than doubled the cost.

T.Y. Lin International has worked across the world on major projects, including the eastern span of the Bay Bridge between Oakland and San Francisco. Sacramento’s new bridge will be built between the Sacramento Railyards and the planned West Sacramento Washington development, near C Street, city officials said. The existing bridge, built in 1910, will be used for rail.

The City Council on Tuesday approved $320,695 in city money to T.Y. Lin for the first phase of the project, including five design concept options, a digital 3D model and a series of public meetings taking place next year, Gothan said. The city will continue to pay the firm for additional phases; the final bill to the firm has not yet been negotiated, Gothan said.

The federal government has agreed to pay about 88 percent of the project’s cost, Gothan said. That leaves the two cities to come up with about $24 million, if the project’s total cost hits $200 million.

The city is seeking a U.S. Department of Transportation grant for about $22 million, and a $7 million grant from the Sacramento Area Council of Governments. If those are both received, the cities will be on the hook for about $3 to $4 million, Gothan said. The city expects to hear back on both in December.

“Local funds are hard to come by these days, especially for capital grant match type programs,” Gothan said.

An iconic design

Sacramento U.S. Rep. Doris Matsui said she wants the new bridge to be functional, but also a new iconic fixture for the city. “We are looking for a way in this 21st Century that defines Sacramento to the world,” Matsui said.

The bridge will include bike lanes and wide sidewalks for pedestrians, which the current bridge, built in 1910, lacks.

“It is very difficult if you’re not on a train to really traverse (the bridge),” Vice Mayor Steve Hansen said. “If you’re a bike, you take your life in to your hands. If you’re a pedestrian, you can’t figure out how to get from one side to another. And with all the swooping ramps and everything, it’s really cut off so much opportunity on the waterfront.”

One rendering produced by T.Y. Lin features a large silver arch above the bridge that would use solar panels to power the bridge. Another features neon green triangular cutouts and allows people to climb the towers for a scenic lookout. The design could also be an entirely new concept, Gothan said.

Officials expect bridge construction to begin in 2021 and for it to open in 2022, Gothan said.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee