A plan to strengthen and widen the Murray Street bridge over the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor has been in the works since the late 1990s. A train bridge runs parallel to the street bridge and is separately slated for upgrades. (Stephen Baxter — Santa Cruz Local file)

SANTA CRUZ >> The Murray Street bridge over the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor is expected to be widened for cyclists and made safer for earthquakes in a $34 million project — yet its upgrades have been stalled since the early 2000s mainly because of money and design problems.

City leaders are expected to advertise for construction bids by the end of May, said Joshua Spangrud, the city’s senior civil engineer on the project. Work could start in late summer and finish in mid-2025, Spangrud said.

Many residents and business owners near the harbor said they are wary of the 30-month project because traffic jams and other disruptions are expected.

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“Ultimately, we get a seismically retrofitted bridge at the end of the project,” said Holland MacLaurie, port director of the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor. 

The state-mandated project is the last bridge in the city of Santa Cruz to be retrofitted for earthquake safety standards. The bridge deck is expected to be widened and fitted with a new barrier rail. More pilings will be installed with foundation work. 

Project details

  • The project would widen the two-lane street bridge from 34 feet to 35.5 feet. 
  • Bike lanes on the bridge would be widened. 
  • The bridge pilings will be reinforced to withstand earthquakes.
  • A new sewer line would be on the bridge structure itself, off the deck of the inland side of the bridge.
  • The bridge height would provide the same clearance for boats.

State and federal money is expected to pay for the project.

“The project will bring the bridge to current seismic design standards, and is mandated by federal law to improve the safety of the bridge,” Spangrud said. “This project will improve bicycle and pedestrian safety with the inclusion of bicycle lanes and a wider sidewalk.”

An earthquake safety and upgrade project is slated for the Murray Street bridge at left. Upgrades to the rail bridge, at right, are due after the Murray Street project concludes. (Stephen Baxter — Santa Cruz Local file)

Rail trail on the railroad bridge

A railroad bridge runs parallel to the Murray Street bridge. The railroad bridge does not require an earthquake safety upgrade in part because it is made of steel rather than concrete, Santa Cruz city leaders said.

However, the railroad bridge also is expected to be upgraded during the separate rail-trail project to start after the Murray Street bridge project finishes, Spangrud said. 

“It is unwise to have two projects and two different contractors working in the same area at the same time,” Spangrud said.

On March 20, the Santa Cruz City Council approved permits to build a paved path parallel to the train tracks on Segment 9 of the Coastal Rail Trail. That segment runs from the San Lorenzo River to 17th Avenue in Live Oak and includes the railroad bridge over the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor.

A map shows segments 8 and 9 of the Santa Cruz County rail trail

A map shows Segments 8 and 9 of the planned rail trail in Santa Cruz County. (Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission)

Detours and closures

When work starts on the Murray Street bridge, the aim is to keep the bike path under the bridge  open during evenings and weekends.  

Murray Street could close to drivers for up to a week during some construction under the bridge, officials said. A paved path under the east side of the bridge also could close for up to a week during construction under the bridge.

During bridge work, drivers are expected to be detoured to Seabright Avenue and Seventh Avenue. (Santa Cruz Port Commission)

During bridge work, detours are planned around the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor. (Santa Cruz Port Commission)

Arana Gulch trail will provide another path to cut through the harbor as well as access through Frederick Street Park, around the north harbor for pedestrians. 

Message boards are expected to tell drivers and cyclists about detours. 

A city website with detour information is expected to be updated daily. Information also will be provided to radio stations and other media, city leaders said.

There may be temporary closures for boaters who want to pass under the bridge, but the bridge will remain open. People “will be able to access their vessels and take their vessels out during the course of this project,” said MacLaurie, the port director.

Many people who live and work near the harbor essentially said they are bracing for months of tie-ups, inconveniences and maybe lost business. There is already gridlocked traffic during morning and afternoon traffic, many said.

Kyla Kemp, who has worked on an American Medical Response ambulance, said she worried how detours could delay ambulances and fire trucks. 

Reasons for delay 

Funding and design changes have delayed the project for many years, said Spangrud, the senior civil engineer.

The original start for the project was slated for the late 1990s. State funding evaporated until 2007, Spangrud said. When designs were being finalized in 2015, Santa Cruz County leaders wrote that a wastewater pipe on the harbor bottom needed to be on the bridge.  Roughly five years passed as engineers redesigned the wastewater line and other factors.

Another factor in the delay has been rules related to construction on the harbor floor. This part of the project can only be done from June to October due to environmental permit requirements from the  National Marine Fisheries Service and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The underwater work is expected to take two years.

This project will be a “cooperative effort with the city,” said MacLaurie, the port director. 

“The outreach is really important. As this process evolves, the city and port district will work together to spread the messaging,” MacLaurie said.

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Rebecca Benjamin is a freelance writer in Live Oak.