City to commemorate bridges

San Mateo — Four 103-year-old train bridges that fostered some of the city’s busiest neighborhoods and withstood two major earthquakes will soon be replaced, prompting questions about how the hard-working structures should be commemorated.

These bridges elevate the Caltrain corridor above East Poplar Avenue, Santa Inez Avenue, Monte Diablo Avenue and Tilton Avenue in San Mateo’s North Central neighborhood. All four have deteriorated with time and regular use — and many are too low to accommodate tall commercial trucks — prompting a $40 million Caltrain plan to replace them between July 2007 and July 2008.

The city’s Public Works Commission will examine three ways to memorialize the bridges in a workshop Wednesday. The options include submitting photos, architectural drawings and a narrative to the National Register of Historic Places and similar organizations; offering artifacts to the California State and Golden Gate Railroad museums; and installing informational plaques or displays at the sites or on structures nearby.

“There’s no architectural beauty to them, but they’re interesting,” said Mitch Postel, head of the San Mateo County Museum, which surveyed the bridges in 1989.

The American Bridge Company of New York built the bridges in 1903, 40 years after the tracks were laid, to keep cars safe from passing trains and connect new residents living on either side of the tracks. Within five years, new neighborhoods near those bridges were bursting with homes, according to Postel.

Although such bridges were common at the time, very few were built in San Francisco or on the Peninsula, Postel said.

Caltrain’s bridge-replacement plan includes raising the tracks and bridges so that trucks could pass underneath them, modifying the roads and constructing retaining walls to protect the embankments. Designs for the project are 20 percent complete, so it’s unclear what the new structures will look like, according to acting Deputy Public Works Director Susanna Chan.

“These bridges are part of the historic fabric,” said Bertha Sanchez, a city planning commissioner who lives in the North Central neighborhood. “Whatever they could do to make them safe while at the same time keeping them historic would be best.”

The San Mateo Public Works Commission meets Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall, 330 West 20th Avenue.

bwinegarner@examiner.comBay Area NewsLocalTransittransportation

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