“Safe for continued use” and “in remarkably good condition”—Read the Independent Engineers’ Report

Submitted by Albion Bridge Stewards, a working group of ACAB

Two independent professional engineers—world-class experts in timber bridges—have prepared a report on the condition of the Albion River Bridge.

We strongly recommend anyone interested in this bridge download and read their report. To do so, click this link: Albion River Bridge Engineering Report.

Some key highlights:

The bridge is not in need of immediate or near-term replacement. The bridge is in remarkably good condition, thanks to its well-conceived structural design, high-quality timber materials, and effective connection detailing. While there certainly are locations on the bridge that require maintenance and repair, overall the bridge appears structurally sound and safe for continued use, as per the “Safe Load Capacity and Ratings” reflected in Caltrans’ January 5, 2018 Bridge Inspection Report.

The Albion River Bridge is in remarkably good condition, and is not posted with any load capacity/weight limits. The design of the bridge involves a highly redundant structural system with multiple load paths. Features of the design that lead to its robust and resilient character include the following:

  • The timber members are of uniformly high-quality Douglas fir salt-treated by the Wolman method.
  • The timber trusses of the superstructure and support trestles consist of members primarily subjected to axial compression forces, for which heavy timber members are well suited.
  • The dimensional integrity of the bents in the trestles is impressive. Column lines are straight (to the eye) and the bents are planar. (Figure 1 below.)
  • The battered columns provide a base that is wider than the bridge deck, thus enhancing the ability of the bridge to resist lateral loads, such as those from wind.
  • In August 2002, a loaded logging truck plunged down the side of a trestle, destroying the cross-bracing members between bents. The fact that the trestle did not collapse due to the loss of bracing is an indication of the resilient and redundant nature of the trestles and demonstrates how the internal shear connectors might be revealed for inspection (as discussed later in this report) without endangering the structural integrity or safety of the bridge.
  • There is little or no audible rattle below the bridge deck when traffic passes overhead. This observation suggests that connections are tight and members are sound.
  • Generally, access to the connections within the trestles is good, which will enhance the efficiency of inspection, maintenance, and repair activities. Removing bracing members temporarily to inspect the inner connection hardware could be performed relatively easily without requiring closure of the bridge to traffic.
  • Each of the outer-most columns of each bent is heavily bolstered at its base to help distribute compressive load into side-grain bearing on the lower sill plates. The next, inboard line of columns is lightly bolstered, because those columns carry less compression under lateral load. The bolsters appear to be effective in controlling overstress of the sill plates, as we observed no indications of localized crushing due to compression perpendicular to grain.
  • Many of the large timber members have checks – radial cracks on the surface of the timber. The checks tend to be aligned with the longitudinal axes of the members, which suggests that the members have remarkably straight grain, another indication of high- quality material. Checks are not generally regarded as strength-reducing defects and do not require repair. Checks on the sides or bottoms of horizontal members and on any face over vertical or diagonally oriented members are able to drain freely when subjected to rain water.
  • The bridge deck consists of two crossing diagonal layers of timber planks. The upper layer uses tongue and groove planks that lock together and provide uniform support for the asphalt pavement. The lower layer has planks that are spaced to minimize trapping any water that might migrate through the asphalt wearing course and the upper layer. The two layers of planks, properly coupled to the longitudinal stringers along the edges of the deck, have the potential to form an effective diaphragm (a deep, flat beam) to resist out-of-plane loading. With proper drainage detailing, the bridge deck also acts as a roof to protect the superstructure and trestle towers from stormwater runoff.
  • Concrete piers supporting the timber trestles are in good condition. We observed no spalling or cracking. The piers provide uniform bearing support for the sill beams of the trestles.

Action Alert: Email the Coastal Commission Before 5 pm Friday, September 7

Submitted by the Albion Bridge Stewards, a working group of ACAB

At its Wednesday, September 12 meeting in Fort Bragg, the California Coastal Commission will hear comment regarding Caltrans’ proposed geotechnical investigation development—the first destructive step toward tearing down the historic Albion River Bridge. We urge everyone concerned about Caltrans’ expensive, destructive, and unnecessary plans to email the coastal commission before 5 pm on Friday, September 7.

To comment on the plan, visit the Coastal Commission’s agenda page, and locate Item 10a. It’s called “Application No. 1-16-0899 (California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), Mendocino Co.)”.

At the end of the short description, you’ll find a “Submit Comment” link. This will create a new, blank email with the proper address and subject already filled out.

Or, simply send an email to: NorthCoast@coastal.ca.gov

With this subject:
Public Comment on September 2018 Agenda Item Wednesday 10a – Application No. 1-16-0899 (California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), Mendocino Co.)

Not sure what to say? Feel free to use the template below as a starting point. Cut and paste portions of it, or simply put things in your own words—even just a short, “Please deny this unnecessary application and help preserve the Albion River Bridge, not destroy it.”

I urge you to deny the Caltrans application to start on the slippery slope of replacing, for $91 million, the existing sound timber bridge with a wider and straighter concrete one just so the 2,100 cars per day that use it can go faster.

This “geotechnical investigation” development project is a Caltrans work program that is neither needed nor appropriate. As a result of the latest revisions, the project is only in the County’s Local Coastal Program permit jurisdiction, but Caltrans can’t meet the LCP’s standards and wants you to now side-step them.

Caltrans headquarters staff told the Albion community in a public meeting last November that the bridge is “safe” and, contrary to what District 1 staff has represented to you, that it is not “structurally deficient” or “functionally obsolete.” In the same vein, the photographs that Caltrans contributed to your staff report do not show any rigorous analysis of any “exponential decay” of the bridge, but rather splendidly make the community’s and the independent national timber experts recommendation that Caltrans needs to carry out a responsible and publicly transparent bridge maintenance program, with repairs as needed and the seismic retrofit completed.

The project is an exemplar of why we have a Coastal Act to protect this coast, its natural and human-made resources, and the workers in our coastal economy. To summarize the project is to list its blatant direct and cumulative Coastal Act inconsistencies.

The project:

  • Blocks public and worker access on Highway 1 to and along the coast and its many small visitor-serving establishments, to public Albion Cove beach, and to the recreational opportunities on and along the wild-and-scenic Albion River.
  • Preempts the County road for visitor-serving and local boating, lower cost camping, and fishing access at and from Albion Flat, to Albion Cove, the Pacific Ocean, and up the river.
    Removes not only hundreds of trees in the Coastal Commission certified blue heron rookery Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area at the northwest end of the bridge, but also their entire root system, with foreseeable destruction of the high and fragile bluffs that face Albion Cove and Albion River.
  • Proposes 70- to 125-foot deep drilling into the fractured and unstable earth and rocks on steep to very steep bluff slopes, most of which can only be reached by helicopter. One drilling location is a cultural site of pre-European peoples. and several drill sites are so close to the existing bridge timber towers, the Coastal Act priority visitor serving uses, Highway 1, the beach, and Albion village that Caltrans has to get an impossible approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, since – as you know – its action needs to be consistent with the federally approved Coastal Act and County LCP.
  • The project is clearly inconsistent with many of the mandatory Coastal Act standards, and hasn’t been properly presented to you for geographic jurisdictional reasons. The question, Commissioners, is whether you will uphold the Coastal Act and direct Caltrans to follow the rules, starting with doing an EIR and applying to the County.

Please do the only right thing: deny this coastal permit application. Thank you, for the coast.


Albion River Bridge Musical Benefit, May 6 at Albion River Inn

Submitted by Albion Bridge Stewards, an ACAB working group

Everyone is invited to celebrate the Albion River Bridge, one of our  community’s most emblematic—and threatened—historic treasures, at a musical benefit sponsored by the Albion Bridge Stewards on Sunday, May 6, from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Albion River Inn.

Featured local musicians extraordinaire include Steven Bates (voice, guitar & mandolin) and Butch Kwan (voice, guitar, violin). Poet ruth weiss will be accompanied by Pilar Duran (guitar) and Hal Davis (percussion).

Award-winning local filmmakers Laurie York and Carmen Goodyear’s short film, called “Bridging the Gap” will also be shown. And of course, spectacular views of the historic bridge can be enjoyed all afternoon from the restaurant and grounds of the inn.

Built during World War II, the Albion River Bridge is the only remaining timber trestle bridge along California’s scenic Highway 1. The bridge is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and the California Register of Historical Resources.

Tickets for this afternoon of entertainment, refreshments, and beautiful views can be purchased in advance at Brown Paper Tickets for $20. Tickets will also be available at the door $25. There will be a no-host bar.

The Albion River Inn is located at 3790 Highway 1 in Albion on the north west side of Albion River Bridge. For questions or more details, email acab@mcn.org.


Local Filmmakers Celebrate the Historic Albion River Bridge

Submitted by Albion Bridge Stewards

Laurie York and Carmen Goodyear, award-winning local filmmakers, have created a 3.5-minute film that celebrates the beauty of the historic Albion River Bridge and its surroundings. Called Bridging the Gap, the film mixes historic photos with current photography and video, to paint a beautiful picture of this one-of-a-kind treasure.

Watch it below. (For the best experience, watch full-screen by clicking the little arrows next to the Vimeo logo in the lower-right corner.)

A solution for providing pedestrian and bike access across the Albion River

Submitted by Albion Bridge Stewards, a working group of ACAB.

One of the reasons Caltrans offers for replacing the historic Albion River Bridge is that the historic bridge doesn’t provide pedestrian and bicycle access across the Albion River.

Architect John Johansen has developed a design that addresses this without requiring replacement or alterations to the historic bridge. The solution is a pedestrian bridge over the Albion River, located at the site of the original 1954 drawbridge across the river.

This alternative has some significant advantages:

  • It provides access to Albion village without requiring pedestrians or cyclists to dash across Highway 1. By comparison, Caltrans’ proposed replacement bridge would put foot and bicycle traffic on the west side of Highway 1.
  • It provides a spectacular view of the historic Albion River Bridge and the Albion River.

The footbridge would be built high enough to accommodate marine traffic.


Download a high-resolution PDF of the plan.

Preserving the Albion River Bridge: Questions and Answers

A new working group within ACAB, the Albion Bridge Stewards, has published a one-page flyer arguing for the preservation of the Albion River Bridge.

Its text is below.

The beautiful Albion River Bridge is the last remaining timber trestle highway bridge on the California coast, and possibly in the United States.

The bridge was built during World War II. Steel, concrete, and redwood were reserved for the war effort, so the bridge was constructed primarily of pressure-treated Douglas fir timber. Concrete was limited to foundations, abutments, and two of the thirteen “bents”—the large towers that make up most of the bridge’s substructure. The portion of the bridge that crosses the Albion River is a steel railroad span that was refurbished in San Francisco.

In 2017, the bridge’s historical significance was recognized on both the state and federal levels: the bridge was placed in the California Register of Historical Resources and in the National Register of Historic Places.

There are economic, environmental, and cultural reasons to preserve this bridge. A new bridge would be extremely expensive and involve signicant disruption to the Albion River watershed, the Albion Flats Campground (one of the few affordable tourist lodgings on the coast), and other local businesses.

What’s more, the tourism industry on our coast is built on a foundation of preservation: of the environment, the historic Mendocino village, the Skunk Train, and the Point Cabrillo Light Station, to name only a few examples. There’s a genuine economic advantage to preserving our historic structures.

We owe it to our history, to our economy, to our environment, to California taxpayers, and to future generations to preserve the Albion River Bridge.

Is the bridge safe?

Absolutely. If the bridge was unsafe, Caltrans would be required to close it immediately.

Isn’t the bridge “functionally obsolete?”

Caltrans often describes the bridge as “functionally obsolete”—which simply means that the bridge doesn’t meet today’s design standards for shoulder width and pedestrian and bicycle lanes.

In reality, there are tens of thousands of functionally obsolete bridges in the country, including the Golden Gate Bridge and most Highway 1 bridges. Yet these bridges are functional and safe, and there is no legal requirement to replace them.

The Bixby Creek Bridge on Highway 1 in Big Sur is also a registered historic landmark. It, too, is “functionally obsolete,” and in the 1990s, Caltrans spent more than $20 million to retro t and preserve the bridge.

Could it withstand a tsunami or earthquake?

Caltrans also describes the Albion River Bridge as being “structurally deficient.” One justification for this is that a “1000-year tsunami” might damage the bridge.

Even in this highly unlikely case, Caltrans states that the bridge would likely survive, and any damage would occur from debris striking the bridge when the waters recede. However, there’s almost no development east of the bridge. Thus, there would be minimal debris in a tsunami out ow—in stark contrast to areas such as Fukashima, Japan.

As for an earthquake, in 2016, Caltrans performed a seismic retrofit to strengthen the steel portion of the bridge, which was the most seismically vulnerable component.

What about toxins in the timbers?

A representative from the California Department of Toxic Substances Control wrote the following in response to a question by a community member: “Arsenic and hexavalent chromium concentrations we have found are higher than what DTSC considers acceptable for a residence. When we estimate risk for a residence, we are assuming a 24 hour, 365 day/year presence. However, since the areas of contamination are not a residence, but rather in a recreational setting, we do not necessarily think there is an issue with current land use.”

What’s more, if the bridge is torn down, its timbers would have to be trucked to a Class 1 hazardous waste facility. e closest such facility is in Kettleman City, 300 miles away—hundreds of truckloads of toxic waste on local and state roads.

Lastly, any discussion of environmental hazards must also take into account the environmental impact of a proposed new bridge: not only the disposal of the historic bridge, but the impact of construction and geotechnical investigations on the Albion River, a federally designated wild and scenic waterway.

Is there room for pedestrians and cyclists?

There are several ways to accommodate pedestrian and bicycle traffic across the Albion River, and they can be added for a fraction of the cost of building a new bridge.

Isn’t the bridge expensive to maintain?

The bridge has annual maintenance costs of about $150,000—a fraction of the cost of building a new bridge, demolishing the historic one, and transporting and disposing of tons of toxic waste.

Add to this the other benefits of preserving a historic structure: the economic benefits to tourism and local businesses, and the intangible but very real benefits to the fabric of a community.

Isn’t it cheaper to just build a new bridge?

No. In 2013, Caltrans estimated a new bridge would cost nearly $50 million. It’s easy to imagine a new bridge costing far more, considering that construction wouldn’t begin for several more years, and that cost overruns are common.

Facts and Figures

Opened for traffc: 1944
Designated a state and national historic landmark: 2017
Length: 969 feet
Height above river level: 150 feet
Width: 26 feet
Width of proposed replacement bridge: 55 feet
Original cost: $370,000
Cost of replacement bridge: roughly $50 million (Caltrans 2013 estimate)