I recently joined a crowd of other curious citizens who’d donned Caltrans hardhats, yellow reflective vests and safety glasses for a 2-hour, organized tour of the nearly completed Downtown to Dana project.
From the project’s start, we’ve kept you posted with announcements and updates about the complex bridge construction feat that began two years ago.
I can’t speak for the rest of the people on the tour, but the pedestrian and bike trail was what most piqued my interest, even though it’s a byproduct of the main bridge construction project.
My excitement was twofold: First, because it’s been hidden from view, but second, mainly because it’s such a joy to see something pedestrian- and bike-friendly built in Redding, a city where, if you see someone walking, you assume car trouble is the culprit.
What’s that? An aesthetically pleasing, paved path that leads from downtown Redding to “uptown” Enterprise at Hilltop and Dana drives?
Be still my sidewalk-loving heart. I’ll get to that in a minute. Back to the tour. Most of us rode in a Caltrans van, while others piled in the pickup driven by Phil Baker, the project’s manager. We were taken to spots where we could safely get out, walk, and get behind-the-scenes peeks at a bridge that will be around long after we’re all gone.
Baker was proud to say that not only is the Dana to Downtown project coming in on time and under budget, but it may be finished far earlier than its initial 2012 deadline. In fact, it’s expected to be finished sometime in early fall; maybe sooner.
A common question Baker hears is from people who wonder why the old Highway 44 bridge over the Sacramento River wasn’t simply widened, to which Baker gives three primary reasons. First, it turned out to be more cost-effective to build a new bridge than simply widen the old one. Second, the old bridge was not seismically sound. And, finally, the old bridge had some erosion issues – called “scour” — at the foundation’s water level.
The bridge construction is, of course, the main event. However, Baker said the project has some extra details that make the bridge uniquely Redding.
Decorative details that go beyond the functional include overpass walkways adorned with artistic waterways, and even a curvy metal “mountain” piece along overpass fencing.
Overall, the result is a project that accomplished the goal of building a bridge, but also went the distance to choose – whenever possible – art over ordinary, beauty over ho-hum.
That brings me to my original topic: the 12-foot-wide pedestrian and bike path running parallel to the bridge along its north side. The path, which is a little more than one mile long, is nearly hidden from the view of Highway 44 motorists above. It starts at Sundial Bridge Drive, near the most southern side of Turtle Bay Museum, and ends at Hilltop and Dana drives.
While this path wasn’t part of the original bridge plan, it was made possible when it became apparent that the bridge would be constructed under budget. That left available funds to do something special along the bridge. It put the spotlight on the needs of human-powered, not motorized, traffic.
On the Turtle Bay side of the path, it meanders to the obvious entrance, heralded by a tall, decorative retaining wall/barrier on the freeway side to keep pedestrians safe from motorists, and farther up, a 25-foot-long tunnel that runs beneath a freeway on-ramp after it’s crossed the river.
The approximately 150-foot-long concrete relief mural shows bicyclists in motion, making the retaining wall visually pleasing, while giving a nod to the path’s purpose. Sconce lighting and ornamental guardrails complete the picture by making the path both safe and welcoming.
In addition to being a practical way to pedal or hoof it from the trail’s entrance near Turtle Bay Museum and across the river, the paved trail gives up-close views of plants and protected wetlands, the majesty of the Sacramento river, and the wonder of nesting (nearly famous) eagles and other wildlife, such as beaver, herons, turtles and ducks.
For Baker, who anticipates the day when his granddaughter can ride her trike along the pedestrian path, the Dana to Downtown project is worthy of not just professional but community pride.
“It’s one thing to overlay asphalt, but it’s something else to see a project that looks nice, something that people enjoy,” Baker said.
“Some people might say, ‘Wow, that must have cost some extra money to do that,’ to which I say, ‘Yes, it did.’ But this project is a statement about Redding. It says, ‘This is a beautiful place to live.’ I can picture a lot of people having fun here.”
Independent online journalist Doni Greenberg founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Greenberg was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.