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By Jeb Bing

New Bernal bridge opens, one more to go

Uploaded: May 4, 2009

A new section of the Bernal Avenue bridge over the Arroyo Del Valle opened last month without fanfare or even without the City Council riding in the first cars to cross the $7-million-plus, two-lane span, and probably with good reason.

The span is years late. It has been in the planning, engineering, environmental permitting and construction phases for more than 10 years. Since early in the decade, I'd long been asking former City Engineer Phil Grubstick for a start date on the bridge, which was part of the 1996 General Plan and long a priority of the City Council. Grubstick retired several years ago, not because of my persistent questions, I hope, but still without answers. He was as baffled as city planners over the large numbers of environmental agencies that had to give permission for Pleasanton to build the bridge and by the constantly escalating costs of construction at a time when steel and cement prices were soaring.

Even the water truck owner, whose name slips my mind, who lived with his extended family in an old house and several outbuildings at the northeast corner of Vineyard and Bernal wondered years later why the city had rushed through a check for about $1.2 million for his home and property. He used the money to expand his business on acreage purchased off Tassajara as bulldozers rushed in to tear down the house and much of the adjacent fence protecting the Vineyard Villa mobile home park. Then nothing, with the barren land serving as an unseemly sight for motorists passing through that edge of Pleasanton.

A review of the permitting process Grubstick and others endured all these years helps account for several million dollars of the cost of building the new span, which now gives motorists two lanes in each direction on this busy roadway. Storm water detention basins, wetlands protection, hydrologic analyses, endangered species habitat, "soil substrate at the bottom of the mitigation feature" are colorful if not bewildering terms used throughout hundreds of pages of scores of reports by outside consultants hired by the city to obtain permits from federal, regional, state and water agencies, all because bridge pylons would be placed at several places on both sides of the arroyo to support the bridge.

To meet the demands of some of these agencies, Pleasanton built a holding pond that is now part of a beautifully landscaped area on Laguna Creek Lane just south of the Valley Avenue traffic circle at the Union Pacific Railroad underpass. That's at least three miles from the new Bernal Bridge, but it satisfied the agencies that wanted to have a safe habitat for Arroyo Del Valle critters and other endangered species and plants that could be disturbed by bridge abutments and possibly more overhead traffic.

With the new Bernal bridge offering better access from Stanley Boulevard to the residential areas of Vintage Hills and the Vineyard Corridor, including fire trucks from Station 1 next to the bridge, we can turn our attention to Bernal Bridge No. 2. This new span has been on the planning books even longer with increased automobile, pedestrian and bicycle traffic from mainline Pleasanton to the Foothill Road side of the Arroyo De la Laguna increasing so fast that a wider bridge was deemed necessary in the early 1990s. Many look at the artistic forged steel support cover of the bridge as worth duplicating, which the City Council authorized five years ago. At one time it was planned as a four-lane bridge, two lanes on each span.

But when costs soared past the $5-million mark, everyone backed off and now a simpler, one-lane design has been approved. Somewhat like the Division Street bridge that was built in the 1940s, the Arroyo De la Laguna structure will be "artsy," but no architectural match for the old bridge residents rave about.

With the design and environmental permits in hand, here's a bridge that is shovel ready except that the city has only $1 million of the $5 million it needs. Unless federal stimulus dollars head our way, this is a new much-needed bridge now facing an economic downturn and a recent City Council decision to lower its priority as a public project necessity. The good news is that when finally constructed, this will be the last bridge Pleasanton will ever have to build.