Milligan Drive Bridge in danger of collapse

Thousands of bridges across the country are in danger of collapsing, according to a report in Wednesday's Los Angeles Times.

Add one more.

The bridge to the privately owned Milligan Drive urgently needs to be repaired, or better yet replaced, before it falls into the Laguna Canyon Channel, according to Public Works Director Steve May.

Limited by law on the funding of private improvement projects, the council voted to loan the neighborhood $30,000 to fast-track an investigation of solutions, which could cost $250,000 to $300,000.

"This is the lifeline to our neighborhood," said Milligan Drive resident Peter Morrison.

Residents cross the bridge to go to work, to shop and to take their children to school.

"But $300,000 is a problem," Morrison said.

Staff proposed a city-initiated assessment district after the failure by a couple of Milligan Drive residents to get financial commitments from neighbors. Neighborhood support is required to create the district.

"We need your help," Milligan Drive resident Ken Delena told the council. "We are not asking for $600,000 for lighting," referring to an earlier council decision to fund proposed repairs to the tennis courts at Laguna Beach High School, including lighting.

"We are asking for access to our homes."

Deborah Young, owner of one of the 12 affected parcels on Milligan Drive, said the bridge "is the way in for emergency services, mail delivery and trash collection.

May said the bridge will collapse eventually if nothing is done to restore or replace it.

Concrete abutments on which the wooden bridge rested have eroded. The bridge is sitting on the Laguna Canyon Channel walls, which were not designed to bear the load, May said.

Advisory signs have been posted on the bridge, limiting vehicle weight to 2 tons, which prohibits emergency vehicles from accessing the neighborhood. A community-minded resident has given police and fire officials temporary access through her Canyon Acres property.

The wooden bridge was replaced by Orange County in 1957, when the channel was built. It is in the Caltrans right-of-way for Laguna Canyon Road.

Both the county and Caltrans deny ownership or maintenance responsibilities, May said. And he has been unable to find records that conclusively identify the responsible agency.

The city has no legal obligation to take an active role in repairing or replacing the bridge. However, the city owns seven parcels as well as the sewer system for which access over the bridge is needed, justifying a financial contribution by the city if a project is undertaken, May said.

Staff recommendations include appropriating funds for the preparation of an engineer's report for a proposed assessment district, requesting proposals for the engineering design for the bridge and processing amendments to the Sara Thurston Park Specific Plan and Local Coastal Program to reduce the bridge width from 24 to 15 feet.

"I think it will come to an assessment district," said City Manager John Pietig. "This has to be resolved."

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