Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday formally threw his weight behind a plan to turn Tower Bridge over to Sacramento and West Sacramento, but rejected a request from local representatives to authorize up to $15 million in state budget funds to help seal the deal.
In signing state budget trailer bills, Brown ordered Caltrans to negotiate with the cities on terms for turning over control of the iconic 80-year-old structure that spans the Sacramento River between the cities and what once was the main entrance to the Capital City.
“I am directing the Department of Transportation to discuss relinquishment with the cities and how to best preserve current and future utility of the bridge,” the governor wrote.
Local officials, including Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, and Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, had hoped the governor would agree to toss up to $15 million into the negotiations pot, money that could be used to help the two cities build a streetcar line, and to help pay for some future bridge operations and maintenance costs.
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McCarty and others said the cities will continue to pursue funding from Caltrans as part of a bridge deal.
“Although I’m disappointed in the governor’s veto of the Tower Bridge relinquishment proposal, I’m very confident that the actual transfer – with funding – will still occur,” McCarty said. “The governor’s commitment to direct Caltrans to work with the cities of Sacramento and West Sacramento on a funding and policy plan sets up a framework for a successful resolution.”
Caltrans officials have said they would like to relinquish control of the bridge, relieving themselves of annual costs, because the streets on both flanks are now local streets, leaving the bridge disconnected from other state highways. The bridge road is technically a highway, State Route 275, the shortest in the state.
Caltrans officials say they spend about $400,000 annually on bridge maintenance and operations. That includes costs for a bridge tender and mechanisms to lift the road to allow taller vessels to pass through. Caltrans says the bridge is in good condition. The state plans to spend $7.4 million in 2017-18 to replace the wooden fenders on both bridge support piers. The fenders protect the span’s piers from being hit by boats or debris in the river.
At the request of the two cities, Caltrans will conduct an assessment of the bridge’s condition prior to negotiations.
Sacramento city officials say they would like to co-own the Tower Bridge, saying that could make it easier to build a streetcar over the span, if they come up with streetcar funding.
West Sacramento Mayor Chris Cabaldon said his city has not identified revenues it would need to pay a share of ongoing operations and maintenance, but he said the city is willing to re-enter negotiations with Caltrans.