Bridges Over Troubled Water

With a 40,000 page document describing the upcoming tunnel project, you would think that the State agencies would now know everything about the Delta.


Listening to the Water Board Hearings got me started researching the barge traffic and the Delta bridges that huge numbers of barges traveling throughout the Delta would need to have opened in order to travel through.

Since I know the South Delta the best, I started looking there. What bridges do we have?

Here’s the bridges the WaterFix EIR thinks we have in the South Delta:

What is frightening about this? First, they obviously have never researched the area they are planning this huge construction project to go through. They hire junior researchers who sit in an office somewhere and look at the internet to get some data, but don’t get out on the waterways or ask locals.

Every Discovery Bay boater knows about the big bascule bridge operated for the railroad, the Orwood Railroad Bridge on Old River. There is an alternate, identical bridge on Middle River. I’ve never seen the Middle River Railroad Bridge open. It is the backup in case the Orwood bridge is broken or down for maintenance. You see, if neither of those bridges were operational, boaters in Discovery Bay and nearby marinas would be cut off from the rest of the Delta and beyond. The railroad is obliged to provide waterway access 24×7. The right to navigable waterways is part of the Rivers and Harbors Act. The railroad bridge is the only bridge on Old River between Discovery Bay and the main channel. The bridge operators who control the Orwood RR Bridge are probably the nicest, most polite bridge operators on the Delta and work hard to try not to inconvenience the boaters. (Of course, trains always get the priority!)


Probably because they referenced bridges on the CalTrans site and the railroad isn’t a highway. Hmm.

SIDENOTE: I’ve read more than one state agency project that plans a dam across the railroad slough – virtually removing boat access to the alternate bridge. They don’t care and they have no clue.

Then, weirdly, they put “(Santa Fe)” next to the Middle River Bridge name on Highway 4 and the Low Water/High Water clearances listed for the Hwy 4 bridge are actually the railroad bridge clearances. So clearly, they are messed up.

They didn’t list any times of operation or even the bridges that don’t operate. I added the Orwood Road Bridge because it’s one only very small boats can get through. I wouldn’t be surprised if they try to route a barge through there – haha.

Other Bridges

Other bridges we boaters go through regularly are the Middle River (Bacon Island) Bridge and the Connection Slough Bridge. They should be concerned about both of those. They plan docks and barge landings in Connection Slough. Also they need their construction trucks to go across the Connection Slough Bridge to get to the Mandeville Island tunnel access shaft. But it is totally missing from the EIR (Chapter 19, Table 19.6 “Roadway and Rail Draw Bridges in the Study Area.”) In addition, the table title includes “Rail” but it missed them! Oh, and they added a bridge in downtown Stockton, the “San Joaquin River (Garwoods)” bridge. Not in the Plan Area. The EIR is a mess. This is only one example.

Well, at least now they know the Bacon Island Bridge exists. When the USBR came to Discovery Bay in 2010 to pitch their 2-Gates Fish Protection Project, we complained that they couldn’t put a dam in Old River else they’d block all boat traffic except for certain times and days. They had no clue there was a Bacon Island Bridge. Gees.

Highway 4 Issues – Traffic Nightmare!!!

There are two bridges on Highway 4 between Discovery Bay and Stockton. They are among the oldest, built around 1917. Coming from Stockton, the eastern bridge is the Middle River Bridge. They stopped operating it quite a few years ago. It doesn’t even open by request. The second, near Discovery Bay, is the Old River Bridge. It is not operated regularly. In fact, I think it has only opened maybe once in the last 30 years. So the boating traffic south of Highway 4 is mainly wake board boats, water ski boats, and fishing boats. To get barges to Clifton Court Forebay, the barges would need to go through the Orwood RR Bridge. Then it would need to go through the bridge at Highway 4.

During the Water Board Permit Hearings last month, our STCDA team of expert witnesses presented analysis of the project which included how horrible traffic will be throughout the Delta. Captain Frank Morgan of Discovery Bay described his analysis of traffic issues: trucks and cars congesting the small Delta roads and barge traffic and construction going on throughout the waterways.

Bridge of the Week

One big problem Captain Morgan identified was that the Highway 4 Bridge over Old River (the first bridge you encounter when leaving Discovery Bay heading towards Stockton), would need to be opened multiple times a day to let barges pass through. On Highway 4, the columns of construction trucks going from Antioch and from Clifton Court Forebay through the bridge to Bacon Island Road would compound the high volume of commuters and all of them would be waiting in line the 20 minutes or more for the slow barge to get through whenever the bridge is opened, backing up traffic past Discovery Bay and back. (Currently, that bridge never opens.)

I became suspicious if the DWR knew anything about the bridges in the Delta when the DWR lawyer in his cross-examine asked why the Highway 4 bridge would need to be opened. Bill Wells and Frank Morgan needed to explain to him that tug boats were needed to push or pull the barges and tugs need to be high enough to see over the barge and what it is carrying so yes. That bridge’s clearance has just 10-12 feet clearance when closed. Our ski boat can squeeze under it. I’m checking to see if there are any tug boats low enough.

The DWR lawyer also asked Frank Morgan if they couldn’t just build a higher bridge there. Frank’s eyes got big as he sat absorbing the question and then said in his opinion they couldn’t. There’s a big curve just prior to the bridge and the roads are narrow levee roads. He thought it would be hard to go back far enough to ramp up to 40 feet on the narrow 2-lane levee roads with sloughs on each side. And the DWR guy seemed to agree it would need to be 40′ high at least, if what they were proposing was having completed tunnel segments on those barges. But the DWR lawyer didn’t know what the barges would be hauling so couldn’t answer. (Researching, I doubt they’d try to move 40′ high completed tunnel segments, but it isn’t clear.)

I wish they would put a new bridge in. The current two bridges are scary, narrow, and traffic accidents occur regularly.

Four Square

It continues to amaze me how little they understand about the Delta and how many errors we continue to find in their huge document and knowledge.

1 Response to “Bridges Over Troubled Water”

  1. 1 James November 2, 2020 at 10:08 pm

    Hello! I am beginning to research and plan a photo book about the California Delta and ran across your page. One of the things I want to cover is the tunnel project and its impact on the Delta. I need local knowledge to help me and this page helped a lot. If possible I would like to communicate with you about my project if you were able to spare some time at some point. thanks !

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