Emeryville South Bayfront Bridge

Emeryville’s South Bayfront Bridge Opening Concludes Nearly 20 Year Odyssey

Published On December 4, 2021 | By Rob Arias | News & Commentary

The City of Emeryville held an official ribbon cutting event for the long-awaited South Bayfront Bridge on Friday evening. The well-attended ceremony concluded a long planning process that spanned nearly two decades at a cost of over $21,000,000.

The completed bridge provides a bike-friendly east-west connection over the railroad tracks near 53rd Street to the Bay Street Shopping Center. A connection that will connect housing to jobs and residents to amenities.

Video: Albena Trandeva

Project Initiated in 2002

The initial idea of the bridge actually goes all the way back to the 1980’s when it was included in a General Plan update. Development for the bridge began in 2002 when the city was awash with Redevelopment money.

By 2008, planning for the project was well under way following community meetings and environmental review. The location, a designated EPA Brownfields site, also required significant environmental remediation.

Emeryville City Council at the time consisted of Ruth Atkin, Nora Davis, Ken Bukowski, John Fricke and Richard “Dick” Kassis.

As the engineering design phase of the project was underway, Councilmember Fricke and members of a design committee pushed back on the initial design deeming it not bike-friendly enough due to the inclusion of stairs/elevators and lack of ramps. The project was redesigned to incorporate the gently sloping approach ramps that would better allow bikes, wheelchairs and strollers to access the bridge without the inclusion of elevators (similar to the Berkeley Pedestrian Overcrossing).

Projects Hits Snag in 2011

While the eventual design is indeed favorable to cyclists, the additional time in the design phase and community feedback may have set the timeline of the project back longer than anyone could have foreseen.

In 2011 amid a state budget crisis, then California Governor Jerry Brown successfully abolished local Redevelopment Agencies throwing the project in limbo.

The City of Emeryville sued the state to recoup the $12,000,000 allocated for the bridge and other projects. The legal battle spent several years in state courts with the city of Emeryville ultimately prevailing.


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Following the successful lawsuit, the project was reactivated in 2015. The right-of-way negotiations with the Union Pacific Railroad and other stakeholders would take an additional four years.

Councilmember John Bauters, serving his appointed term as Mayor in 2017, committed to “putting a shovel in the ground” in a since deleted 2017 tweet. This proverbial “shovel” would not touch dirt for another three years. The project took on almost a mythical status within the community.

The bidding process began concurrently in 2018 with the winning bid going to Ghilotti Construction of Santa Rosa. Ghilotti officially kicked-off construction of the bridge in early 2020. It reached a significant construction milestone at the end of 2020 when the bowstring truss was hoisted into place.

The bridge pieces were fabricated and painted in Arizona and shipped to Emeryville. The distinct red hue is the same “International Orange” as the iconic Golden Gate bridge. The signature arch span is comprised of materials and components fabricated in three continents and six states.

Work Remains for Seamless Connection to other Bikeways

While the bridge is finally complete, work remains to provide the seamless connection to the Bay Trail to the West and Emeryville Greenway/Mandela Parkway to the East.

“The Emery” housing project at the former Sherwin-Williams site is well underway and is one of the largest under-construction housing projects in the East Bay with 500 units.

Bay Street remains in a delicate state with the new owners pinning their hopes on the addition of a Grocery Store to help revitalize the declining shopping center and encourage consistent use of the bridge.

About The Author

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who lived in Emeryville from 2003 to 2021. Rob founded The E'ville Eye in 2011 after being robbed at gunpoint and lamenting the lack of local news coverage. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.

11 Responses to Emeryville’s South Bayfront Bridge Opening Concludes Nearly 20 Year Odyssey

  1. Brian says:

    This bridge really needs to be decorated with lights! It would be so beautiful to have a red streak connecting the city at night.

  2. Steve says:

    Its a lovely bridge and I’m glad that I’m around to see and benefit from it.

    But I’m completely dismayed that this took 20 years to deliver, if there was ever an example of just how bad the US, States and Local government has become at delivering public infrastructure its this. Building a power station takes 10 years. Sending a man to the moon took 2 years. Tesla building a viable electric alternative at scale took 10 years.

    Current leadership should be using this as a case study to ask “What the hell?”. This is up there with the planned Berkeley roundabout at Gilman St exit that has been in planning for over a decade.

    • Solution - stop voting for marxists says:

      Repaving an existing road takes 3 years of environmental and social justice studies. Replacement bridges like the Bay Bridge are being designed by the Brown brothers (Willie and Jerry) and design / permitting for realignment of roads takes 20 years. It’s going to take longer in the future. Just search for “highways are racist” in your favorite search engine. When Berkeley spent time studying the renaming of manholes is a sign of government wasting money. Another example: Obama’s “shovel ready” projects in 2009 turned out to be one inch of asphalt on top of potholed roads. The potholes reappeared a few months later.
      However, the public road to Pelosi’s walled compound in Napa is repaved every 3 years. Lo and behold, Bauters gets a bridge near his house in 4 years.

  3. John says:

    Very exciting! Can’t wait to ride my bike over then check out the newish EBRP pier landing at the Bay Bridge!

  4. sylvia tellez says:

    I know that the bridge speaks mostly of bicycles but is it possible for people to walk it is well I don’t know how to ride a bicycle so I’m interested in your answer.

    • Rob Arias says:

      Maybe I didn’t emphasize the “ped” part of the bike/ped bridge enough but yeah, pedestrians can use the stairs or the ramps. Thanks for your comment.

    • ascentale says:

      I rode through the other day and saw an equal number of walkers and people on bikes. There is access to the 2nd floor of the Bay Street parking garage from the bridge ramp on the west side.

  5. Robin Freeman says:

    Congratulations!!! So looking forward to using it.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Happy to see this built but what will the city do about the cost overruns. This contractor is notorious for presenting change orders and getting them.

    • I bet you say all contractors are notorious says:

      What cost overruns? I have read the city represented the cost originally at $13 million. Governments purposely underestimate the cost of infrastructure to get the ball rolling. Then they claim they have spent too much money on design or permitting, etc. to throw away the project when the real costs are known at bid time.

      The cost was updated to about $22 million before bidding. What cost overruns are you referring to? Some of the increase from $13 million is inflation but now there are lights and gentle approaches and stairs with lengthly landscaped paths on either end. The design is unique and almost a “one of a kind” design requiring fabrication by a specialist company in Arizona, etc.. Other cities (Dublin, CA for example) ask contractors to submit bids based on their own designs thereby allowing the competition process to get lower bids.

      Emeryville hired a designer to come up with a unique design, paid the designer to revise it, paid the designer to fix their mistakes and paid the designer to monitor the contractor. How much did their contract increase? Bidding low was never required for the designer. Did you mean to say “some cities and designers are notorious for bait and switching the cost of projects” ?

      The contractor had to compete with others to submit a low bid and was constantly bombarded with requests for changes and told “although the written contract allows you to do that, this is what our intent was”, or “this is what we really want.” It looks like the cost is below the budgeted $22 million. What evidence do you have that “This contractor is notorious for presenting change orders and getting them.” ?

      Perhaps bike and sneaker registration fees and tolls should be charged and the gas taxes should be used to fix roads.

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