Jessen Drive Bridge work leads to revised school traffic routes

The Jessen Drive Bridge isn't necessarily a bridge too far. But it is a bridge too old, at least as far as the city is concerned. It's been planning its replacement for at least a decade. And now those plans are coming to fruition.

The two-lane wood-and-steel trestle bridge, built over Earle Canyon in the 1930s, serves as the main route for the parents and students who reside west of Palm Drive to reach Palm Crest Elementary. It is tentatively scheduled to be demolished in early April, according to city engineer Ying Kwan.

It will be replaced by a girder bridge made of precast, reinforced-concrete and will provide two lanes of traffic, wider shoulders and a sidewalk on the west side of the bridge.

The new bridge is expected to be open for traffic in September.

The old bridge's problem is, at least partly, one of numbers. It was rated a 47.8 on the Caltrans Sufficiency Rating scale this year. Caltrans requires that any bridge rated less than 50 be replaced.

Kwan said the project already is underway, with contractors beginning pre-demolition construction.

The city voted in February to award the John S. Meek Company the $1.18 million contract for the bridge replacement, and to include $410,423 for contingencies, materials testing and inspections, for a total project cost of $1.6 million.

The city will only pay about $183,000 of the cost, however, because the project qualifies for federal aid under the Highway Bridge Replacement Program, which covers 88.53% of the project's total cost.

But a nonfinancial cost could be a bit of traffic confusion.

While construction is under way, the city has designated a new traffic pattern for Palm Crest Elementary drop-off and pick-up, said Mike Leininger, assistant superintendent of Facilities & Operations for La Cañada Unified School District.

During school hours, the Palm Crest parking lot, on Palm Drive, can only be entered via left turn by northbound cars. Exiting vehicles must turn right, heading south on Palm. Parents heading west on Fairmont will pass the school, make a U-turn before the bridge site, and drop their students off at a designated stopping area on Jessen Drive.

The largest detour will be for students coming from west of Palm Drive, who will now have to head south to Lyans Drive, and the over to head north on Palm.

Leininger said the timing of the project should minimize confusion for parents.

“[The city] had a timeline, and we agreed with them that it's always better to do a project toward the end of a school year than the beginning, because any time you have brand-new parents, it takes a while for the traffic patterns to get established.... ” he said.

Karen Hurley, Principal of Palm Crest Elementary, said via email the school supported the bridge replacement project, and was prepared to deal with the construction in the interim.

“We believe we have been as thorough as possible and have considered all possible scenarios that may arise during construction,” she said.

Hurley said she would be posting the new traffic routes and information about the project on her website by the end of the week.

Eileen Greenbaum, a Palm Crest PTA board member and School Site Council member, said via email that safety is her first priority with respect to the project.

“My first concern is the safety of our kids and families,” she said. “The city is asking us to make some big changes in our drop-off and pick-up routine and I am hoping that everyone will be careful until the dust has settled on the new routes.”

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