Back-Seat Driver

A community came together to save this historic Folsom bridge

Several groups teamed to save the 102-year-old Gold Creek Bridge, which hides in a secluded ravine between Orangevale and Folsom.
Several groups teamed to save the 102-year-old Gold Creek Bridge, which hides in a secluded ravine between Orangevale and Folsom.

Folsom is a city racing to become bigger and more modern. But a group of residents recently succeeded in persuading the city to save a small piece of its history – the Gold Creek Bridge.

It’s a little-known, little-used, 102-year-old span that carries Orangevale Avenue over a wooded ravine so secluded it feels like it’s lost somewhere in the foothills, even though it’s just two blocks from busy Greenback Lane.

The bridge was built two years before the famous and far busier Rainbow Bridge, which sits a mile to the east. In fact, the concrete arched bridge is a “mini me” version of the Rainbow Bridge. Same basic design. Same designer.

It was built so growers could truck oranges from Orangevale to trains in Folsom headed to market. Later, it became part of the Lincoln Highway, the designated route between San Francisco and New York before the modern freeway system was built.

It’s so narrow, though, the city only lets one vehicle across at a time. “Nobody in a hurry to get some place wants to use it,” preservationist Loretta Hettinger said.

Fifteen years ago, Folsom city officials decided to tear the structurally deficient bridge down and build a bigger, modern span in its place.

Just before the city finalized the plans, though, it was challenged by a group that included Lincoln Highway enthusiasts, some retired Caltrans engineers who lived in the area and the Heritage Preservation League of Folsom, a coalition formed “to speak up for history,” Hettinger said.

The group persuaded the city and state to give the bridge historic status, and got the city to set aside plans for a modern bridge to see if it could figure out a way to upgrade the existing bridge. The problem was there were no drawings of how the bridge was built. Workers had to bore holes to look inside the concrete.

Ultimately, slightly less than half of the bridge was rebuilt. The rest is original. Folsom engineer Brian Reed said it may be the smoothest, most feel-good project he’s ever worked on.

“Everybody banded together,” he said.

Dokken Engineering, a Folsom company, was tasked with figuring out how to keep the bridge historic, while still making it strong. Viking Construction did the work.

“It was kind of a pain, but it was the right thing to do,” said Rick Liptak, Dokken president. He said lessons learned with the project will come in handy during a Rainbow Bridge upgrade this fall.

The little bridge reopened this month. The $2.1 million spent was less than what it would cost to tear the bridge down and build a new one, Liptak said.

If you look closely, you can see the new concrete has thin ribs every six inches. That’s because plywood didn’t exist in 1915, so to maintain the bridge concrete’s original texture, workers went old school, using 2-by-6-inch planks as forms to pour the concrete.

In the past, fire trucks sometimes avoided the bridge, fearful it could collapse. The refurbished bridge now has five times more rebar. During the reopening celebration, the city drove fire trucks across, to prove a point.

It may not be quite modern, but it’s solid.

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak