Fighting Mother Nature
Some say it makes no sense to place a new bridge in the same location as the old Medio Bridge. They worry erosion and the forces of climate change will eventually take out any new bridge in the same spot. Photo courtesy Jack Sutton

The Medio Bridge replacement project will come before the Midcoast Community Council this week as locals and visitors alike voice their opinions on a county plan to replace the bridge in its current location, reconnecting a segment of the Coastal Trail.

The bridge was closed unexpectedly over the summer due to structural problems. Officials rerouted the Coastal Trail through the Miramar neighborhood and alongside Highway 1, prompting San Mateo County’s Department of Public Works to start on a plan to replace the bridge along Mirada Road. The work is set to be completed by the end of this year.

The Midcoast Community Council initially opposed the county’s proposal, arguing in its October letter that the proposed armoring to protect the new bridge and bluffs from ocean tides would worsen erosion and that a long-term solution should be prioritized. The council suggested

exploring a reroute at Alameda Avenue, sparking resistance from Miramar residents. Those residents then drafted a document outlining 15 points of contention and circulated a petition in support of the county’s current plans. As of Monday, the petition had 1,128 signatures.

Now, the MCC is set to discuss two new letters — one that offers conditional support of the project — at its Feb. 10 meeting. MCC Chair Michelle Weil said the council changed its perspective after hearing community input and after new information came to light that the county had already accelerated the bridge replacement project. As a result, a realignment would require a separate public process that could push the timeline back by years.

“Knowing that that detour would have to remain in place for many years has caused us to reconsider our position,” Weil said.

According to Public Works Director Jim Porter, the county hopes to begin construction by summer with a goal to reopen the bridge in October or November, pending the approval of permits for the project. On Tuesday, the county Board of Supervisors approved the initial environmental review documents for the project.

The MCC’s conditional support would hinge on the county beginning to plan now to reroute the Coastal Trail inland and that the Flood and Sea Level Rise Resiliency District extend its forthcoming erosion study to include the Miramar neighborhood. Weil also noted that the project is subject to approval by the California Coastal Commission, which may not support rebuilding a bridge that could last just a few decades.

“Take a look at the erosion that’s occurring on the Coastside and make a plan for what happens when we will inevitably have to move the bridge back,” Weil said.

Miramar resident Patrick Tierney, who lives along the south side of Mirada Road, said that safety, cost and environmental concerns drive his support for the project as planned. He said the current reroute, which takes trail users through narrow neighborhoods and along busy Highway 1, is unsafe and should not be considered as a long-term solution while a rerouting is explored.

“We have seen so many close calls,” Tierney said. “The road was not made to be a trail, and the trail was not made to be a road.”

While Tierney thinks sea level rise needs to be taken seriously, he said pursuing the current project, which is cheaper and would not disturb a new section of the Arroyo de Medio, makes the most sense in the short term. He said a realignment could take up to a decade, leaving an unsafe reroute in place for far too long.

According to Tierney, around two-thirds of the signatures — gathered last weekend by volunteers on the Coastal Trail — are from visitors, and a third are Coastside residents.

“This really shows how important the Coastal Trail is to both residents and visitors and how we all want to see the bridge replaced as soon as possible at its current location,” Tierney wrote in an email to the Review. “Almost no one we talked with (less than 1 percent) wanted the bridge to go inland or to continue the long dangerous detour we have now.”

But some groups agree with the MCC’s initial stance and would rather see the bridge moved inland and trail rerouted now.

In an October 2020 letter, Green Foothills legislative advocate Lennie Roberts argued that the current replacement project doesn’t comply with the California Coastal Act and the county’s Local Coastal Program. She referenced a 2019 California Coastal Commission decision that a realignment would be less environmentally damaging than enhanced bluff armoring as proposed in the project.

“Based on this recent decision and in light of sea level rise projections, the prudent action now is to relocate the bridge inland a sufficient distance so the California Coastal Trail and other infrastructure will not be subject to accelerated bluff erosion and structural failure in the future,” Roberts wrote.

Roberts said this week that Green Foothills’ position remains unchanged. Leaders from the local nonprofit Surfrider Foundation also support alternatives to armoring and want to explore a long-term plan to combat sea level rise and erosion of Surfer’s Beach and the Miramar shoreline.

“We have an opportunity here to come together to create a solution we can all be happy about,” Moss Beach resident and local Surfrider representative Kimberly Williams said at the December MCC meeting. “... I think we should solve this now.”

The MCC will take up the issue and accept public comment at 7 p.m. tonight. The meeting can be accessed by visiting midcoastcommunitycouncil.org.

This version corrects Kimberly Williams' town of residence.

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