Brendan P. Bartholomew/Special to the S.f. ExaminerThe John Hernandez Bridge in Half Moon Bay

Despite protests, Half Moon Bay bridge closed to pedestrians, cyclists for safety repairs

A condemned pedestrian and bicycle bridge in Half Moon Bay was recently the focus of protests and alleged acts of civil disobedience by residents who say they are frustrated with the long duration of the bridge's closure.

After an unknown party cut through fences blocking access to the bridge, numerous pedestrians and bicyclists traversed the structure the following day despite warnings from city and state park officials that it was unsafe.

In another act of protest, resident Timothy Pond says he repaired part of the bridge's cathodic protection system, a technology designed to prevent rust. This is work that should have already been done by the California Department of Parks and Recreation, Pond claimed. He also organized a one-hour hunger strike to call attention to the issue.

“Some people wanted to do a two-hour hunger strike, but that close to lunch, it was out of the question,” Pond joked.

Officially known as the John Hernandez Bridge, but commonly referred to by locals as the Pilarcitos Creek Bridge, the 400-foot-long structure is located in the state park at Francis Beach and is part of the California Coastal Trail. The town's historic Main Street Bridge, which allows vehicles to traverse Pilarcitos Creek, has also been the focus of recent news reports. In June, residents voted to preserve the Main Street Bridge, which Caltrans had initially sought to replace due to structural issues.

Originally constructed in 1993, the John Hernandez Bridge is now severely corroded, and all but the foundation must be replaced to ensure safety, officials say. Consultants hired to evaluate the structure have blamed the problems on the bridge's close proximity to the sea, and recommended constructing its replacement out of fiber-reinforced plastic, to avoid future rust problems.

The bridge has been closed since April and, according to San Mateo County Harbor District Commissioner Sabrina Brennan, the interruption in coastal trail access for campers, hikers and tourists is not the only issue created by the closure. Because state Highway 1 is often congested with car traffic, many locals have come to rely on the bridge as a crucial artery for walking or biking to work, Brennan explained. She added that some residents feel using the coastal trail is safer and more pleasant than using the noncontiguous trail that runs alongside the highway.

City Councilman Rick Kowalczyk urged residents to stay off the bridge, emphasizing that it's not safe. He said the cut fences have been repaired, and state park employees are checking every day to make sure the barriers remain in place. While Brennan and Pond have criticized what they say is the City Council's slow movement on the access issue, Kowalczyk noted that although the bridge is owned by the state Department of Parks and Recreation, the city has assumed responsibility for the project, and the work should be completed in about six months, if not sooner.

Department of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Vicky Waters said her agency is collaborating with the city on the project and considers the bridge to be a top priority. She added that any unauthorized repairs performed by Pond as part of his protest did not enhance its safety, and she worried that residents who heard about the repairs might not understand that the bridge is still structurally unsound.

“It's a frightening feeling to think of people getting on that bridge,” Waters said.

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