The new Sacramento River bridge is a big opportunity. Let’s not blow it.

A bicyclist takes the risk of crossing the I Street Bridge. A planned new span is supposed to be safer for bicyclists and pedestrians.
A bicyclist takes the risk of crossing the I Street Bridge. A planned new span is supposed to be safer for bicyclists and pedestrians. Sacramento Bee file

The new bridge over the Sacramento River could be a civic game-changer.

By linking and creating easier access to the downtown railyard and the Bridge District in West Sacramento, it could boost both and also accelerate riverfront development. It could set a new local standard as a safe and inviting route for pedestrians and bicyclists. And just maybe, it could make an iconic architectural statement.

But only if the bridge is designed right.

On Thursday, the public has a chance to have its say. The community meeting is set for 5 to 6:30 p.m. at Stanford Gallery, 111 I St. in Sacramento.

It’s long overdue to replace the 106-year-old I Street Bridge. The vehicle lanes are too narrow for buses, there are no bike lanes and the sidewalks provide little room for pedestrians. Oh, and it’s ugly.

The plan is for it to stay in place, but only to carry commuter and freight trains. (Union Pacific owns it.) The approach viaducts will be demolished, however, opening up the waterfront on both sides of the river.

The new span is planned just north and would be the first linking Sacramento and West Sacramento since the Tower Bridge was built in 1934. It would be used by vehicles, bicyclists, pedestrians and a possible future streetcar line. It would be a direct route from the railyard, where a Kaiser Permanente hospital and a Major League Soccer stadium are planned, to the mixed-use Bridge District, which is already developing.

Both are among the sites offered in the bid economic development officials submitted last week to Amazon for its second headquarters. Officials also see the new bridge as adding to the surge of development around Golden 1 Center and as a key missing piece for redevelopment of the underused riverfront.

It has been a long process just to get this far on the bridge. In 2011, both cities approved a study calling for the span. In 2013, Caltrans allocated $76.6 million in federal funds for design and construction. Sacramento and West Sacramento are seeking more federal money for the project, estimated to cost $90 million total, and have agreed to share the remaining local cost.

There’s a long road ahead. While the environmental impact report is almost complete, two years of design and two years of construction will follow.

After preliminary engineering, the plan is for 120-foot-high bridge towers, two 12-foot-wide vehicle lanes plus a center turn lane, two 8-foot-wide bicycle lanes and two 12-foot-wide pedestrian walkways. To meet U.S. Coast Guard navigation standards for the river, it is planned as a lift bridge with a 56-foot clearance above the 200-year flood level.

Some early design concepts were not popular with some, but the city plans an open competition to select an architect to do the final design. If all stays on schedule, the bridge would open in 2021 or 2022.

The potential is certainly there. Now it’s up to local officials to take full advantage.