Editorials

Look before leaping on Tower Bridge

Then-Mayor John Marks of Tallahassee, Fla., stands among other mayors who attended the second “Farm to Fork” dinner on Tower Bridge last September.
Then-Mayor John Marks of Tallahassee, Fla., stands among other mayors who attended the second “Farm to Fork” dinner on Tower Bridge last September. Sacramento Bee file

Logically, it makes a lot of sense for Sacramento and West Sacramento to take over the iconic Tower Bridge linking the two cities.

Financially, maybe not so much. The cities should kick the proverbial tires first.

The state budget approved last week by the Legislature included as much as $15 million for the cities to assume operations and maintenance of the 80-year-old bridge. In signing the budget on Wednesday, however, Gov. Jerry Brown nixed that provision. He directed Caltrans to negotiate with the cities, writing that while he supports the state relinquishing the bridge, the budget process shouldn’t be used to “circumvent” those discussions.

In any case, the cities shouldn’t sign on the dotted line until they have a firmer figure on the long-term cost – and a stronger guarantee of state assistance.

Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty told The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board Wednesday that his agency is willing to compensate the cities to some extent for the “maintenance liability,” but didn’t have an exact number in mind. He said Caltrans is working closely with officials in the two cities on a possible deal.

It now costs an average of $400,000 a year to maintain the span, including a worker who lifts the bridge deck for taller ships. But there are also possible repairs, including $7.4 million to fix the bumpers that protect the bridge. Caltrans gave up the road on either side of the span a decade ago. Now, it wants to shed the bridge, the shortest state highway in California.

There’s another factor at play: A proposed streetcar line would go over the bridge.

The project hit a roadblock this month when Sacramento voters turned down a tax needed to finance initial construction, but supporters are working on plan B. They were counting on a $10 million state grant as part of the $75 million local share, and it’s conceivable that money could be incorporated into a bridge deal.

Even if it is, local officials must protect taxpayers as much as possible from the long-term maintenance costs.

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