Monday, September 22, 2008

The Bridge That Never Was

This post IS NOT about one of the issues surrounding the Republican Party Vice Presidential candidate's "Bridge to Nowhere."

Instead, it's a story about how a bridge that never was played a role in determining a bit of our local history. As the City of San Jose grew larger even at the turn of the 20th century, local engineers planned to build an additional bridge over the Coyote Creek in San Jose but for some reason, the first design was never built. This bridge would have spanned the Coyote at the east end of San Salvador, near South 16th Street and connect to Williams Street's east-west alignment, south of and parallel to San Salvador . In 1911, the City of San Jose actually paid real money for the acquisition of a triangle of land on the creek center line to build a mid stream column to support the long bridge needed to span the fairly wide flood plain at this point in the river.

Either for economics or safety or both, this design option was abandoned, and a shorter bridge was constructed in its current location on E. William Street. The existing span is a shorter bridge and crosses the river at a skew. In order to have this shorter span, it was required that a embankment be created across much of the floodplain on which to build the western abutment, thereby restricting the flow of the river at flood stage. To mitigate this restriction of the floodway, the land that now is William Street Park was purchased as public open space but also to serve as a flood detention basin.

As subsequent storms proved the inadequacy of the storage volume in the upstream park, more riparian land was purchased upstream, giving us first Kelly Park and the connecting riparian lands in between, and then future purchases were added even further upstream, until urban and park planners realized that they were creating a park chain along one of the two main riparian corridors running through the watersheds draining the city of San Jose.

Today, the Coyote Creek Park Chain is one of San Jose's ecological and recreational assets with the potential to be one of its jewels. The trails along the creek are not yet contiguous from the bay to the base of Andersen Dam in Morgan Hill 30 miles south of the estuary. Our current Council member for District 3, San Liccardo, made one of the planks in his platform printed in his first ballot statement, continuing to connect the spot parks like Kelly, Williams, Roosevelt and Watson Park with creek-side trails.

Whether Sam considered the uproar that would arise from the 60 or so homeowners whose homes backed up to Coyote Creek downstream of the William Street bridge, I'm not sure. This idea had been pretty well vetted by the prior council member, Cindy Chavez during her tenure.

However, the Santa Clara Valley Water District has opened the door for achieving the extension of the creek side trails as part of the Mid-Coyote Creek flood protection project design that has been going on for about a year. The objective of this project is to prevent overflows of flood waters from entering their natural overflow channels to the east of the creek in order to protect the homes and businesses that the City of San Jose has allowed to be built in the bypass channels. The benefit of this project is obviously the prevention of flood damages from occurring, but also to relieve these bypass channel homeowners from the burden of paying annual flood insurance premiums to FEMA, whose regulations actually allowed these homes to be constructed in the floodable areas.

As downtown San Jose continues to densify the housing for its growing population, more demand will occur for contact with the natural environment that the riparian corridor of the Coyote Creek can offer. Despite the innovative approach Councilman Liccardo is proposing for bikeways on some of the one-way street around SJSU campus, continuous trails along the creek can provide off-road bicycle trails that are much more enjoyable and safer.

The Water District has so far ignored the fact that forcing the additional flows to stay within the main channel of the creek will constitute a inverse taking of the creek side properties downstream of the William Street bridge. Upstream diversion of some of the runoff from the Upper Silver Creek watershed has already augmented the flows through this reach of the river. Before the flood control project is implemented. the City and the District will have to address the inverse condemnation that results from the induced flooding of the Silver Creek and the newly proposed flood "protection" project.

1 comment:

Tom said...

I haven't been paying too much attention to the Coyote Creek Trail plans recently, but I think the Trail will be routed on city streets from Olinder to Roosevelt Parks.

Now that they have removed the rails, it seems like relatively minor task to connect Olinder to Kelly Park.

Not sure how difficult it will be to connect the trail from Kelly Park to Tully, but once you are there it is just a few blocks on city streets before you hit the completed trail to Anderson dam.

Even with the current detours on city streets it is a fun ride.