The communities of Princeton and Butte City spoke, and the California Department of Transportation listened: the towns will remain connected during the construction of a new bridge on Highway 162.
Caltrans on Thursday presented four alternatives to the original project plan, which was initially rolled out to the community in February. The initial project plan called for the closure of the bridge for between 9 and 18 months, while a new bridge was constructed along the current alignment.
The alternatives all call for a new bridge to be built alongside the old one – which will remain open to traffic during the majority of construction.
“Road closures to these alternatives are very minor,” Caltrans project manager Winder Bajwa said. “There will be maybe a couple of weekend closures.”
The estimated construction costs of the alternatives, which all include replacing both the causeway and span structures, ranged from $50-60 million to $60-70 million. Those figures include neither the costs of property acquisition nor engineering.
“This could end up being a $100 million project by the time we’re done,” Bajwa said.
Attached to that price tag is a 50-year design life for the bridge.
Caltrans said they will hold another public open house in Princeton in the next two months.
Thursday’s meeting was the first since the agency’s public open house at Princeton High School on Feb. 16, when more than 120 area residents were on hand to voice their concerns over the bridge’s extended closure.
Butte City Bridge will stay open while replacement is built
Most of the public’s concerns centered around the proposed 34-mile detour and its effects on emergency services, impacts to farming and business operations, and schools.
Bajwa and public information officer Gilbert Mohtes-Chan presented the four alternative plans to a crowd of about 40 people on Thursday morning.
Overall, they thought residents were happy that the bridge would remain open during construction.
“I think people really like the idea of not having a closure,” Bajwa said after the meeting. “That was something that the community expressed concern over, and they seem very happy with (the bridge remaining open).”
There were some concerns over two of four the alternatives, however.
Each of the four alternative plans propose to build a new bridge parallel to the old steel truss structure: two on the north side of the existing bridge, and two on the south side. In two of the alternatives, Highway 162 would continue to travel through Butte City, keeping the 30 mile-per-hour curve on the east side of the bridge in place.
The remaining two alternatives proposed to smooth the curve on the east side of the bridge, which would realign the roadway to bypass Butte City entirely. These two plans rankled some of those in attendance.
Under those alternatives, the new alignment of Highway 162 would go through existing orchard land – much of which belongs to area farmer Jim Smith.
“Since I am the one who will be most affected by this, what’s my recourse?” Smith said. “It would be going through three of my wells and a lot of pipes.”
Mohtes-Chan responded that he would be compensated if one of those alternatives were chosen. Smith said he couldn’t be compensated for the impact to his farming operations.
“We understand the difficulties of that. We’re not going to force anyone. Nothing is set in stone,” Mohtes-Chan said.
The two plans that involve the new 70 mile-per-hour curve and eminent domain are more expensive, but that isn’t necessarily a deciding factor.
“You have to look at improving the safety of motorists too. You can’t quantify that in a dollar perspective,” Mohtes-Chan said after the meeting. “We are looking at different factors in the feedback from the public and political leaders, evaluating that, and seeing what we can do. We’re also talking to the property owners, and right now, there is no specific preference (for one alternative). The draft environmental review report will come in a year, and we will have to make a decision at that point.”