Malibu's crucial stretch of Pacific Coast Highway, the Malibu Lagoon Bridge, was opened to four lanes of traffic Thursday after the first phase of a $9.2-million reconstruction project was completed in five weeks--100 days ahead of schedule.
The bridge was closed in January after unusually punishing storms buckled the structure, blocking all but foot access between the east and west ends of Malibu for a week. Two of the four lanes of the coast road were reopened, but Malibu residents were forced to continue living with a traffic bottleneck until the first phase of reconstruction of the 60-year-old bridge was finished.
As it had done after the 1994 Northridge earthquake damaged Southland freeways, Caltrans offered an incentive bonus to the bridge contractor, MCM Construction, setting a timeline of 135 days for a return to four lanes of traffic.
Working around the clock, disrupted for only one day during torrential rains, the company finished in 35 days, earning $5 million in bonuses.
A 90-day second phase, which will include rebuilding the northbound half of the bridge, won't begin until June 1. Part of the delay is due to a requirement that no work be done on the bridge during the March 15 to April 18 spawning period of fish called tidewater gobies. The rest is due to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requirement that work not be conducted through May in the Malibu Creek, which runs under the bridge, because of potential flooding.
The fish, found nowhere else in Los Angeles County except Malibu Lagoon, were reintroduced into the brackish body of water in April, 1991, after they had died off from bulldozing in the Malibu Creek stream bed. Environmentalists and officials at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asked that no work be done on the bridge during the gobies' spawning.
The reduction of traffic to two lanes on the bridge, along with the closure of Malibu Canyon Road after landslides caused by a March 10 storm, left residents and business owners feeling stranded.
"It has been one punishment after another here," said Jeanette Farr, who lives near Pepperdine University and owns Bambu restaurant in the Cross Creek shopping area. "With the bridge being partly closed and Malibu Canyon Road closed, we're cut off from the Valley and the rest of Malibu. Every business owner I've talked to says business is down 40%."
The bridge was scheduled for replacement last summer, said a Caltrans spokeswoman, who added that the project was delayed because officials had to secure permits from seven agencies to do the work.
"Nobody has ever done what we did . . . come in 100 days early on a project like this," said MCM Construction's chief operating officer, Jim Carter, who was busy celebrating at Pierview Cafe in Malibu. "We went through some extreme weather as people in Malibu know. It's been a long day coming."