Leimert Bridge Seismic Retrofit

The information in this article is up to date as of July, 2015.  The OHA Board will update as necessary, but as the Leimert Bridge Seismic Retrofit Project is a multi year, ongoing event, updates may be few and far between.   If you have questions in the interim, please do not hesitate to contact the Board.

Leimert Bridge | Seismic Retrofit

Iconic panoramic view of the Liemert Bridge circa 1926.

Iconic panoramic view of the Liemert Bridge circa 1926.

In 2003, the City of Oakland Public Works Agency presented a seismic retrofit proposal for the Leimert Bridge to the Oakmore community. The bridge was built in1926 and was identified by the state as a structure that could collapse during a major earthquake. This retrofit proposal was controversial because it would have compromised the aesthetic integrity of this graceful and iconic bridge, eliminating the horizontal braces from the bridge and encapsulating the remaining vertical columns with steel casings similar to many retrofitted freeway overpasses on state highways. It was recognized that the bridge must be made safe from collapse in the event of a major quake and some aesthetic compromises are inevitable. However, the historic landmark status of the bridge suggested that a more sensitive design solution should be carefully considered.

In addition to concerns about the aesthetics of the retrofit to the lower portion of the bridge, the community, led by OHA and Councilmember Quan, requested that the City include a number of improvements to the deck portion of the bridge. Coming out of that process, the flaking concrete on the surface of railing adjacent to the sidewalk was repaired and, as part of the future project, the City has committed to replace and upgrade the chain link fencing mounted on top of the concrete railing. The roadway is to be resurfaced as well.

Construction on the bridge retrofit was originally scheduled to begin in 2007, but over the last few years, there hasn’t been much news on the progress of the project. We understood that the environmental review process was ongoing and the State Historic Preservation Office was reviewing the project impacts to the aesthetics of the historic landmark bridge. Since this project is 80 percent funded by the Federal Highway Bridge Replacement and Rehabilitation Program, the project needs to be approved under the National Environmental Preservation Act, which takes substantial review time.

Recently, OHA inquired to the Public Works Agency about the status of the retrofit and, low and behold, there is movement. As a result of the environmental review process, the initial design was determined to be unacceptable and the City is issuing a Request for Proposals, or RFP, to develop a design that is intended to minimize historical impacts of the retrofit work. As of this writing, the RFP was to be issued in March 2015, and the design process should start in late 2015. The process includes the development of several alternative designs, which will be reviewed by, among others, community and historic resource experts. Each alternative is paired with an analysis of cost effectiveness and of potential effects on Sausal Creek, Dimond Canyon Park, and the community.

Although construction on this project is years off, OHA will be coordinating with the City, vigilant in monitoring its progress, and keeping the Oakmore community informed.

Historical Background

Key Line Trolly

Key Line Trolly

In 1926, developer Walter H. Leimert completed an elegantly arched bridge to his new Oakmore Highlands subdivision. The bridge connected Park Boulevard to the nearby Oakmore area hills, which had been isolated by Dimond Canyon on the northwest and the bed of the former Palo Seco Creek (now Highway 13) to the east. The bridge spans 327 feet and is 117 feet above Sausal Creek, which winds its way through Dimond Canyon. The bridge cost $150,000 to construct, which is about $2 million in today’s dollars. After completion, the bridge brought commuter streetcars (the Park Boulevard #18 Car Line spur off the Key System) as well as automobiles into the heart of the new Oakmore business center and the residential area. A streetcar turnaround was located at the five-way intersection at the east end of the business district. The bridge is the literal and figurative gateway to Oakmore Highlands.

The structure was designed by engineer George A. Posey, who was also an Alameda County surveyor and the engineer of the Posey Tube, which connects downtown Oakland to Alameda. The bridge was elevated to landmark status in 1980 by the City of Oakland Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board in Resolution #1980-8. An Oakland Cultural Heritage Survey dated September 30, 1997 declared the bridge to have “excellent” integrity and called it a prominent engineering feature on the Oakland landscape.