MARTINEZ -- Almost two years after Martinez received funds to study a proposed bridge connecting downtown with Waterfront Park, the project remains in the conceptual stage.
In fact, many of its basic elements -- including where the bridge will begin, where it will end and whether it will be built at all -- are still up in the air.
Over the next few months, residents will have the opportunity to share their ideas on the best way to move pedestrians, bicyclists and emergency vehicles over the Union Pacific Railroad tracks.
"We start with a very open book in how we go about these studies," said John Eddy of Arup, a global engineering firm that will develop several crossing alternatives and evaluate potential environmental impacts and design challenges. The goal is a project that seamlessly connects downtown and the park, supports economic development and protects the city's cultural and economic assets.
Two years ago, the Contra Costa Transportation Authority approved a request from Martinez for $200,000 to study how the bridge might affect downtown merchants, the railroad, PG&E and the East Bay Regional Park District. The funds came from Measure J, the countywide half-cent sales tax that pays for transportation projects.
At that time, the proposal called for a 20-foot-wide bridge connecting Court Street with North Court Street. The overcrossing was to begin at Court Street near Marina Vista, rise to 23 feet above the
The bridge idea originated in the 1930s, but Martinez has been lobbying for one since 2001, when the former city manager included it on the list of Measure J projects. Currently, Ferry Street is the only way in and out of the marina. But with 20 freight trains and 44 Amtrak passenger trains traveling through Martinez each day, that entrance is often blocked, causing lengthy backups downtown. More traffic is likely this summer, when the second indoor sports complex opens on the north side of the tracks.
Arup designed the Robert I. Schroder Overcrossing that spans Treat Boulevard near the Pleasant Hill/ Contra Costa Centre BART station. But Eddy made it clear last week during the first of three community meetings that the Martinez bridge won't necessarily look anything like that. The project here must take into consideration the railroad, public transit routes, the network of bike lanes and trails, site topography and the city's wealth of historic resources.
Several residents suggested building a tunnel under the railroad tracks instead of a bridge. Typically a tunnel doesn't have to be as deep underground as a bridge has to be high to meet the minimum 23-foot, 4-inch clearance over the tracks, Eddy said.
At the July community meeting, residents will have the chance to play bridge or tunnel designer. At the final meeting, Arup will present three alternatives, potential funding sources and a construction schedule.
The county transportation agency has committed $10.2 million for the project, but that might not be enough to build a bridge. City Engineer Tim Tucker hopes the Arup study will help.
"The way to get more money is to have a clear idea of what you want to do," he said.
For more information about the project, go to the Martinez website at www.cityofmartinez.org.
Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.