Catches Caltrans’ Eye : Bridge That Fits In Wins

Times Staff Writer

The Santa Margarita Bridge, described by a Caltrans spokesman as a structure that “tiptoes rather gracefully over the arroyo habitat” of O’Neill Regional Park, has received an Excellence in Transportation award, according to a California Department of Transportation spokesman.

The 1,200-foot-long bridge was judged to be an “outstanding structure in a rural setting” because it “fits well with its environment,” Caltrans spokesman Ralph Carhart said.

The award is part an annual Caltrans program in which the state’s outstanding roadways, bridges, tunnels and transportation programs are recognized.

Built in 1984 with $8.3 million in public and private funds, the bridge stretches over Trabuco Creek, a dry creek bed in O’Neill Regional Park. It protects wildlife, including golden eagles and mountain lions, from traffic, Carhart said.


20,000 Cars Per Day

The heavily traveled Santa Margarita Parkway runs across the bridge, connecting the new planned community of Rancho Santa Margarita with the El Toro and Lake Forest areas, said Ernie Schneider, county environmental management director. About 20,000 cars travel across the bridge daily.

It was designed by the consulting firm of Wheeler & Gray of Tustin, which also was honored. Others involved in the design were Wheeler & Gray’s project engineer, Brittain Poteet III, and the Irvine civil engineering firm of Jennings-Halderman-Hood.

Projects are nominated by public works agencies throughout the state, which submit plans and descriptions of their completed projects to an awards committee made up of five judges representing retired Caltrans engineers, private consultants and public officials.

Awards are given in 12 categories, including best highway, best structure in an urban setting, best landscaping and best safety project. The bridge was judged on its design, safety, environmental impact and cost.

The six wishbone-shaped concrete and steel pillars that support the 60-foot high bridge make the structure visually appealing, Carhart said.

Before the bridge was built, the only access to Rancho Santa Margarita was by Live Oak Canyon Road, a slow, winding road through Trabuco Canyon, he said.

Live Oak Canyon Road is “not a road designed to carry a lot of (cars),” Schneider said. “It’s a beautiful road, but if you want to get there quick, you take Santa Margarita Parkway.”

Also in Southern California, Caltrans recognized Los Angeles County with an award for its school traffic safety awareness program.

A total of 15 Excellence in Transportation awards were given out throughout the state.