81-year-old bridge gets new lease on life

81-year-old bridge gets new lease on life
Current and former City Council and staff members, contractors and representatives from the California Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration take part in the ribbon cutting. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek

DEL MAR — Road closures, corrosion and the inability to survive major seismic activity are issues of the past for the North Torrey Pines Bridge.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held April 15 to celebrate the completion of a $21 million construction project to retrofit and rehabilitate the 81-year-old structure.

Funding came primarily from the California Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration.

Mayor Lee Haydu said the 550-foot bridge is not only functional, but a work of art as well.

“Great care and attention to detail went into the planning and design to preserve the history and beauty of this structure,” she said.

Three of the four corner balusters are the originals and are marked by the year 1933, when construction of the bridge was completed.

Haydu noted it was the same year legendary racing horse Seabiscuit was born, the Hoover Dam was completed, construction began on the Golden Gate Bridge and Balboa Park was designated.

In the 1980s, the bridge was deemed one of the worst in the state as far as its ability to withstand an earthquake.

It connects Camino del Mar with North Torrey Pines Road and borders the city of San Diego, which sold the structure to Del Mar for $1 in 2000 when the two cities couldn’t agree on whether to demolish and replace it or restore it.

The retrofit strengthened the existing structure, enhancing its ability to survive major seismic activity, and extended its life by about 50 years.

Construction began shortly after a November 2011 groundbreaking ceremony, however, plans were in the works long before that.

The project was not without its challenges.

“It’s an environmentally sensitive area,” said Zylkia Martin-Yambo from the Federal Highway Administration.

In fact, before construction began, trapping bats had to be moved to an alternative habitat.

Martin-Yambo said it also required coordination with utility companies. “And there’s a train that goes under it,” she added. “On top of that, it’s historic so it (needed) to look the same, even the color of the concrete. … Today I’m happy to say that it’s done.”

Gary Vettese, from Caltrans, recalled the passion and emotional attachment of David Scherer, the city’s Public Works director when the project started.

He said when the contractors were planning a field study, Scherer would say they were “going to church” because of all the gothic peers and columns.

Vettese said the bridge is a perfect example that “things that are hard are really worth doing.”

Del Mar was presented with certificates of recognition from the offices of U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa and state Sen. Marty Block.

Also on hand were several vintage cars from the 1920s and ’30s. Following the ceremony they drove across the bridge to show what it might have looked like the year the structure was built.

Crystal Crawford, who was serving on the Del Mar City Council when the project got under way, noted that when it was built more than eight decades ago the engineers used pencils, paper and slide rulers.

“That was quite an accomplishment,” Crawford said. “I love what it represents about the engineers and our ancestors who did this. … And now I don’t have to worry about anything falling on my head when I walk under it.”



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