Warning that the Saticoy bridge spanning the Santa Clara River is in danger of collapse, a group of Saticoy businessmen, property owners and a Ventura City Council member have joined forces to hasten state efforts to replace it.
State officials say the bridge is safe and have the replacement project, which includes a new bridge and widening of California 118 through Saticoy, tentatively scheduled to begin in 1992.
But members of the newly formed Saticoy Bridge Committee said this week that 1992 is not soon enough.
"What they're doing is just Mickey-Mousing around with this bridge. If that bridge goes down, someone is going to get hurt, just like the Oakland Bay Bridge," said Bill Martin, a Saticoy property owner and bridge committee member.
Martin said the committee, which met for the first time Wednesday, plans to pressure state officials to keep the Saticoy bridge project in the forefront and is considering a lobbying trip to Sacramento.
Committee member Charles Davis, who runs a bakery and barbecue business along Wells Road, said the bridge is extensively cracked in many of the vertical pier supports and a bridge footing has been undermined, exposing several steel pilings that are driven 50 to 60 feet into the riverbed.
Martin, a county resident for 43 years, said the bridge was weakened when it was damaged during a 1969 flood that washed out several other county bridges. He said the bridge has been patched up but not adequately repaired.
But California Department of Transportation officials said this week that they have no fears about the bridge's immediate safety, although they acknowledge that it may be below standards.
"It's perfectly safe," said Jack Hallin, chief of the local Caltrans project development branch. "Caltrans inspects every bridge on the state highway system every two years as a matter of course. The piles are not in any danger of being undermined."
However, the Caltrans environmental report on the project states: "The bridge is structurally deficient as well as functionally obsolete. The footings are too high--pile footings are exposed and subject to scour undermining the bridge. Decking is deficient--barely adequate for legal loads."
The study also specifies problematic expansion joints, cracked concrete surfaces and a metal beam guardrail that doesn't meet Federal Highway Administration requirements. It also says the bridge is too narrow.
The Saticoy bridge is one of four bridges linking Ventura across the Santa Clara River to Oxnard and east Ventura County. It was built in 1912 but destroyed in a 1914 flood. The bridge washed out again in 1938 and was rebuilt in 1939. Major repairs were done in 1956, 1969, 1974 and 1979.
Caltrans plans to build a new four-lane bridge and widen 1 1/2 miles of the highway along Los Angeles Avenue and Wells Road between Vineyard Avenue and the Santa Paula Freeway. California 118 will be diverted diagonally across the railroad tracks, bypassing downtown Saticoy, to link up with Wells Road, which will also be extended southward.
More than 27,000 cars and trucks use the route and bridge daily, according to Caltrans figures, last compiled in 1984. The count is the highest of any two-lane state highway in Ventura County and includes 14% truck traffic, according to Caltrans.
Martin and other committee members said Caltrans officials are ignoring the safety issue when they continue to delay the project.
"They made a case against the safety of the bridge, but when it became prudent that plans be delayed they seem to take a laissez-faire attitude about it," said Ventura City Councilman Donald Villeneuve, who initiated the bridge committee.
Hallin said Caltrans first considered the project in 1984 and planned to have it finished this year. Now the construction, which has been subject to fluctuating state budgets, is not set to be completed until 1994.
The plan, along with widening California 118 and California 23 through Moorpark, has been a long-term Caltrans goal but was delayed in 1985 because of a $300-million shortfall in the state's $5.3-billion highway project fund. Hallin said funds being shuttled to highways and bridges in the San Francisco region, damaged after the Oct. 17 earthquake, may delay other state projects but should not affect work on California 118 and the Saticoy bridge.
Hallin said the state has $17 million set aside in its State Transportation Improvement Program for the Saticoy project but the funds are not specifically budgeted for that reason.
Funding and the date of completion for the project will depend on the passage of a Senate committee bill in June. If signed into law, the bill will raise the Gann spending limit and allow a gas tax increase, which will provide additional funds for transportation projects.
Hallin said if the bill is not passed, county projects may be delayed for several more years.