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Redding, California

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Todd Slaughter
Todd Slaughter
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Bridge Construction Presents Boating Safety Concerns

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As communities in Northern California continue to grow, it is anticipated that many bridges will be built or expanded across the Sacramento River to accommodate increasing transportation demand. Currently, there are two major bridge expansion projects slated for the City of Redding in the next few years: The Cypress Avenue Bridge and the Highway 44 Bridge at Turtle Bay.

These projects will require the building of construction platforms and trestles alongside the existing spans and are expected to remain in place for as long as four years. As crews have started construction to widen the Cypress Avenue Bridge, the new trestles have already caused the boating environment under the bridge to change. The City of Redding and the State of California must now assess whether boaters should be allowed to navigate through the new construction pilings which pose potential dangers to boating safety.

The fishing guides, kayakers, boaters, and rafters of Shasta County are all awaiting the City of Redding’s decision with baited breath. Closing the bridge could create problems for several local businesses which use the Sacramento River north and south of Cypress Avenue. This area of the Sacramento River is a highly sought-after fishing destination. Upstream from the bridge is the increasingly popular Sundial Bridge, which is well known throughout California as Redding’s signature landmark. Any decision the City makes will certainly affect boaters on the Sacramento River.

Currently, the Cypress Avenue Bridge is surrounded by two massive wooden platforms supported by several steel pilings driven into the riverbed. Overhead, cranes and lifts operate to move steel I-beams and construction equipment along the span. Traffic continues to travel on the surface, sometimes backing up across the entire bridge during rush hours. Any boating traffic that occurs under the bridge is directed into a narrow 30-foot passageway between the steel pilings of the low-profile trestle .

When the California Department of Boating and Waterways (CDBW) analyzed the waterway under the bridge, it found the site unsafe for boating for the following reasons:

1.) No warning buoys or markers alert boaters of upcoming construction site dangers.

2.) Signs are posted which require boaters to travel at 5 mph underneath the bridge. The signs were not authorized and boats which travel at 5 mph lose their steering capability in the Sacramento River currents.

3.) There is sufficient space between the metal pilings for most boats to travel through. However, the pilings are oriented in a way that conflicts with the river current. Boats currently must battle the current between the metal pilings, or they will collide with construction equipment. Some boats will not be able to fit through the 30 foot gaps due to their width of their boat plus the width of their oars.

4.) The construction platforms have reduced the overhead vertical clearance to dangerous levels. Higher water releases from Keswick Dam will result in even less clearance.

5.) No navigation lights exist to warn night or early morning boaters of the dangers ahead.

6.) Boaters are exposed to hazardous construction activity occurring near and above the designated opening for boat traffic.

7.) There are exposed steel I-beams on both sides of the bridge which may endanger boat traffic.

To solve this, three alternative were offered: 1) close the bridge to all boating traffic for the remaining years of construction; 2) widen the current boat passage to allow safer upstream or downstream travel; or 3) provide two widened passages designated for each direction, allowing simultaneous travel.

After the release of the CDBW report, Barry Tippin, Redding’s Transportation and Engineering Director, defended the safety of the construction zone safety, asserting that the bridge improvement was being performed by an international firm in accordance to State standards. The City Council has deferred making a decision. A citizen’s committee of guides, boaters, kayakers and interested others has been formed to analyze the options.

Boating accidents have already been recorded in the water under the Cypress Avenue Bridge construction.

The boating accident attorneys at Reiner, Simpson & Slaughter recognize the potential hazards caused by the construction activities at the Cypress Avenue Bridge. These hazards will continue for many years as the construction work progresses. Because of this, we offer the following safety tips for boaters on the Sacramento River in Shasta County:

1.) Power boats should approach the construction trestle with extreme caution and reduced speed, taking into consideration direction of current, turbulence caused by the structures, vertical clearance requirements, conflicting traffic and overhead construction activity. Note that there are launching/recovery ramps north and south of the bridge.

2.) Driftboats and kayaks should approach with extreme caution, recognizing that a turn is required away from the “tongue” in order to navigate the designated passage. Maintain sufficient clearance to accommodate oar lengths. Be vigilant to assess varying vertical clearances and other obstructions. Never proceed in tandem.

3.) Canoes, rafts and other non-powered flotilla should avoid the bridge and construction zone altogether.

4.) Use all appropriate safety gear

5.) Do not fish on or near the Cypress Avenue Bridge, and do not access or climb upon any of the construction structures.

Lastly, one could offer the safety concerns about the Cypress Avenue Bridge as a perfect excuse for exploring other beautiful stretches of the Sacramento River south of the construction zone.