OCEANSIDE — Back before 1984, the Guajome Mesa subdivision, a knot of single-story homes on the southern bank of the San Luis Rey River, faced a predicament year-in and year-out.
During dry spells, neighbors would cross the San Luis Rey by driving over a temporary road laid on the river bottom. But when the river waters began to rise with winter rains, the neighborhood was virtually cut off from the schools, parks and shopping centers on the other side.
The community's quandary galled Melba Bishop, a Guajome Mesa resident elected to the Oceanside City Council in 1980. So she set out to do something about it.
Let's erect a toll bridge, she proposed, and let the people who actually use the thing pay for it. The idea caught on. By January, 1984, the Murray Road Bridge was completed, with Bishop receiving the honor of being the first motorist to pay a 50-cent toll and cross the bridge.
In the years since, however, the $3.42-million structure has failed to attract enough motorists to pay the bills. To make ends meet, city officials have been forced to tap reserve funds.
The fiscal failure of the bridge cost Bishop, as well. In 1984, she was defeated by Mayor Larry Bagley in a tough battle for Oceanside's highest elected office. City Hall insiders contend the loss was prompted in part by the public's irritation over the bridge issue.
Nonetheless, Bishop remains bullish on the Murray Road Bridge. She predicts the structure will begin to turn a profit as soon as College Boulevard is extended from southern Oceanside to the foot of the toll bridge.
"I firmly believe that, when all is said and done, people are going to take another look at Murray Road Bridge and see that it was a very forward-thinking project," said Bishop, who now serves as director of the Fallbrook Community Clinic.
When completed, College Boulevard will be a major north-south traffic artery for the city, sending thousands of motorists flooding into the turnstiles of Murray Road Bridge, Bishop said.
Despite the rosy predictions, roadblocks remain. Work on College Boulevard has come to a halt just a few hundred feet from the bridge because a landowner has balked at selling his property. Negotiations over the deal are continuing and Oceanside officials are hopeful an agreement can be struck and the project completed by the end of the year.
In the meantime, city officials have tried to make ends meet. While tolls were originally collected only between 5 a.m. and 8 p.m., officials in mid-May decided to make the bridge a 24-hour operation. As a result, toll revenue has increased substantially, according to Warren Stehle, a maintenance supervisor with the city's public works department.
All the troubles aside, Guajome Mesa residents are happy with their bridge--and with good reason. For years, the only crossing over the San Luis Rey was a dirt or asphalt strip laid across huge concrete pipes that allowed river waters to pass beneath; during the winter, the so-called Arizona crossing would wash out, leaving the residents stranded.
In 1980, the residents pushed a city ballot initiative to fund the bridge, but it failed to garner the necessary votes for passage. Even the idea for a toll bridge prompted controversy, with some residents charging that the city was circumventing a vote of the people.
But to Bishop, none of that matters now. The former councilwoman is simply proud that she and her erstwhile colleagues on the Oceanside council were able to get Murray Road Bridge built.
"When the big flood comes," Bishop says with a smile, "I think the only thing left standing in the whole valley will be the mission and my bridge."