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