Bridge renovation to feature nighttime work

Public safety clause cited in decision

Despite repeated past statements that the condition of the North Torrey Pines Bridge poses no threat to public safety, the city of Del Mar is nonetheless using an emergency safety clause in the city’s noise ordinance to perform nighttime work during the bridge’s upcoming rehabilitation.

The city is preparing for a massive rehabilitation of the bridge, with $30 million worth of repairs and retrofitting scheduled to begin by the end of next year.

At its Aug. 18 regular meeting, the Del Mar City Council approved a Planning Department request for an exemption to the city’s noise ordinance that will allow bridge construction at night and on weekends.

According to the department, crews may work up to 100 nights during the three-year construction period. To reduce noise, a 10-foot temporary wall will be built around the construction site. According to staff reports, noise will be kept to a minimum; characterized by engineers as “discernable but not obtrusive.”

The 550-foot bridge was built 75 years ago under the California Bridge Department’s work program during the Great Depression. The bridge has been determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places and has been deemed historic by the city of Del Mar, who assumed ownership of the bridge from the city of San Diego in 2001 for $1 and a long list of needed repairs.

After years of wondering how to pay for those repairs, the city finally came up with the money last year with assistance from the state and federal government.

The renovation includes replacing the so-called “superstructure” - the entire top portion of the bridge - to match the present look of the bridge. Openings along the barrier walls will become smaller to prevent children from falling through. Also the bridge’s distinctive lower columns will be completely reinforced and designed to withstand a magnitude 7.0 earthquake and have a lifespan of 75 years.

After a fatal bridge collapse last year in Minnesota brought awareness to the structural condition of other bridges throughout the country, published reports had the North Torrey Pines Bridge as the most structurally deficient bridge in San Diego County. City officials, saying the only threat was a major earthquake event, largely dismissed those concerns. But the clause in the noise ordinance that permits nighttime construction, allows for work, “emergency in nature and required to protect people from imminent exposure to danger or damage.”

“We’ve been working hard toward this for years and throughout have been told it has a life of 20 years,” said councilmember Richard Earnest to Interim Planning Director Brian Mooney. “Within the framework of this, what constitutes an emergency?”

“The bridge has been rated as one of the worst,” responded Mooney.

Mooney did admit though, that the nighttime and weekend work was necessary to keep train and automobile travel interruptions to a minimum. Train tracks run directly beneath the bridge and the two-lane upper section of the bridge is a much-used entrance to Del Mar from the south. He also said the nighttime work was necessary to complete construction in the estimated three year timeline. If not, he said, the construction period could stretch upwards of six years.

The closest residence to the bridge sits 50 yards from structure. But all residents within 1,200 feet of the bridge will be notified at least one month prior to a construction start.

“During peak noise there will be complaints,” Mooney warned the council, “but it fits in your ordinance.”

Maximum noise levels are estimated to be in the 85-decibel range at 50 feet from the work site - annoying but not unbearable according to Mooney. Widely available decibel charts have that level similar to the sound of being in an automobile during heavy traffic congestion.

“I just hope that people will be relieved that we are finally starting this,” said Deputy Mayor Crystal Crawford.

The council will further review environmental documents associated with the bridge in October. The project is expected to go out for bids by early next summer. When work commences, the city will give updates on their Web site and provide an informational telephone number for residents. Periodic road closures will only be performed at night. During the day, single-lane detours will occur.