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Watsonville Slough Bridge has grand opening

Posted: Tuesday, Feb 20th, 2007

After 22 years of vision and 18 months of construction, the highly anticipated Watsonville Slough Bridge concept finally came to life Friday at its grand-opening ceremony.

The 670-foot bridge, part of a project to provide an alternate route to Highway 152, was an $11 million project — including design and mitigation.

“The area has a lot of pedestrian traffic with the high school and subdivision nearby,” Principal Engineer Patrice Theriot said. “People needed an alternative to Main Street.”

After the ceremonial ribbon was cut, a 1968 police car, driven by Watsonville police Capt. Manny Solano with City Councilmembers Greg Caput, Kimberly Petersen and Dale Skillicorn as passengers, was the first vehicle to drive across the bridge.

“It’s not only a bridge project, but it’s a step toward improving our infrastructure and environmental preservation,” Petersen said.

The Watsonville Slough Bridge replaces a section of Harkins Slough Road that was closed for months at a time due to rising water levels in the wetlands.

“The road was under water for more than six months out of the year,” Theriot said. “We wanted to provide an all-weather access route.”

The old road pales in comparison to the new bridge, which includes one wide lane in each direction, a sidewalk on one side, bike lanes and artwork of the slough’s wildlife.

“It was a narrow, two-lane road before and they’ve made a big improvement,” Skillicorn said.

Watsonville resident Dorothy Hamai, who lives near the slough, welcomed the new bridge.

“I remember when there were fewer homes here and we couldn’t go through this road half the time,” Hamai said. “Our friends would put on hip-high boots and cross the water to bring us food and supplies.”

The bridge puts the days of hip-high boots in the past, and has done so without harming the slough’s wildlife.

“We pulled the road out of the slough, and it opened up the channel,” said Senior Utilities Engineer Steve Palmisano.

Engineers had to gather a number of environmental permits because of the amount of wildlife and endangered species around the slough, including pond turtles, salamanders, birds and Red-Legged Frogs, Theriot said.

Officials had to use extra caution during the design and construction phases.

“It took about five years to gather all the permits,” Palmisano said.

To avoid disturbing the wildlife, officials had to build a temporary platform, which also enabled them to work during the winter when the water level was higher, Theriot said.

“There were a lot of things we had to be careful about with the design,” Theriot said. “We had to make sure we didn’t muck up the water or disturb the birds, especially around March when they were nesting.”

In addition to obtaining wildlife permits, officials also had to work around PG&E gas and power lines, Palmisano said.

As part of the project, officials also restored nearly four acres of wetlands and are in the process of connecting and expanding existing trails to go under the bridge and to Landmark Elementary School.

“The Watsonville Slough Bridge and trail will provide alternate paths of transportation to families, joggers and bikers,” Petersen said.

But the anticipated opening also came with concern.

“Speeding has always been an issue around here,” Theriot said. “Now there’s smooth pavement and a wider road. We need them to slow down.”

The posted speed limit for the bridge is 35 mph, and the area will be patrolled heavily, Theriot said. Radar studies will also be done near the bridge.

“I hope people don’t treat it like a racetrack,” Skillicorn said.

Ninety percent of the funding for the Watsonville Slough Bridge came from the Federal Highway Administration, while development impact fees made up the other 10 percent, Palmisano said.

City Manager Carlos Palacios and Pajaro Valley Chamber of Commerce CEO Kristen Collins also attended the opening.


(Published in 2/17/07 edition)

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