Ashley Road Bridge Reopens

By Kelly Mahan Herrick   |   February 13, 2020
The bridge was demolished during the 1/9 debris flow

Earlier this week the Ashley Road bridge reopened after being closed for more than two years following the catastrophic events of the 1/9 debris flow. This Thursday, February 13, a reopening ceremony will be held on the bridge at 10:30 am. “Each step in the recovery and rebuilding process is a reason to celebrate,” said Lael Wageneck with the Santa Barbara County Public Works Department.

The bridge, located between Sycamore Canyon Road and East Mountain Drive, was one of several Montecito bridges damaged or destroyed in the debris flow; the bridge was demolished in June 2018, and a temporary bridge was constructed for emergency vehicles until construction on a permanent bridge commenced in August 2019. 

The Ashley Road bridge replacement project is complete and the bridge is open to the public, following a two-year closure

The original bridge was built in 1918, and during the debris flow, the creek channel was inundated by debris that came from the Thomas Fire burn area. It is estimated that the debris went 14 feet over the Cold Springs Basin, which the County is seeking to expand from 1.5 acres to 2.4 acres to increase its capability. During the debris flow, the bridge’s stone railings were demolished and washed away downstream, and the spandrel wall along the right side of the arch was significantly damaged. Sections of the abutments had also broken away and washed downstream. “You couldn’t even tell that there was once a bridge here,” Wageneck said during a recent visit to the site. The debris that demolished the bridge would continue down Cold Springs Creek, eventually merging with Montecito Creek downstream and demolishing the bridge as well as several homes near Parra Grande on East Valley Road.

According to Wageneck, the new bridge is a structural and aesthetic improvement from the previous bridge. It includes a higher arch and longer span to allow a 100-year storm event to pass under the bridge, and has a natural sandstone facade to match the style of the previous arch bridge. Designed with strength and safety in mind, the two-lane, 64-foot-long bridge handles all current loads, including permit loads over 36 tons of total weight. It is also outfitted with federal test level crash rated barriers and steel approach rails, that have been patinaed to look original. The old bridge had unreinforced footing that was undermined by the creek, while the new bridge has four deep foundation piles at each abutment that go down 30 feet deep. The old bridge also had a smaller arch that could be overtopped in a 25-year storm event.

The project also includes drainage slabs with three-foot-deep cutoff walls at the bridge corners to protect the bridge during a future debris flow; the improved drainage systems adjacent to the bridge were also designed to catch surface runoff and keep excess water off the road.

The reopening of the bridge is a welcome sight for nearby residents, many of whom have had to use alternative routes to access their homes. Ashley Road is used as a thoroughfare, in part to access Cold Spring School; the bridge closure has increased traffic on other local roads and increased the distance to school for many students.

The cost to replace the bridge was $1.8 million, and was funded by FEMA Federal Aid for Disaster Funding ($1.4 million), California Office of Emergency Services State Aid for Disaster Funding ($341,000), and the Santa Barbara County General Fund ($114,000). The project is strictly within County boundaries, unlike many of the other damaged bridges, which were in Caltrans’ territory. “We’ve worked hard on this project, and are excited for the community to be able to utilize the bridge again,” said Lisa Valencia Sherratt from the office of First District Supervisor Das Williams’ office.

Supervisor Williams will speak at the ribbon cutting ceremony on Thursday, along with Montecito Fire Chief Kevin Taylor, Public Works Director Scott McGolpin, and others.


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