Friday, December 19, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Discover Solano Spring 2014: Rio Vista Bridge tender has million-dollar view

By
From page DIS8 | March 31, 2014 |

RIO VISTA — Steve Esperson sat in a concrete building in the middle of the Rio Vista Bridge and looked out a window at boats traveling along the Sacramento River below.

“I’ve got a million-dollar view from here,” he said.

If a boat is tall enough, Esperson pushes the buttons and flips the switches on two metal control panels that are more than 50 years old. Red lights flash and a crossing arm drops to stop traffic. Motors in the two bridge towers come to life, powering cables that haul a middle, 300-foot-long section of the bridge high into the air.

Solano County isn’t famous for its drawbridges. Yet it has three – the Rio Vista Bridge, the Mare Island Causeway and the Union Pacific railroad bridge over the Carquinez Strait – that are impressive in size.

The Rio Vista Bridge was completed in 1960 at a cost of $4 million, replacing an earlier drawbridge built in 1919. It takes Highway 12 traffic over the Sacramento River, about 21,000 vehicles daily. Highway 12 links the Central Valley in the Stockton/Lodi area with the Bay Area.

Solano County transportation officials are looking at ways to replace the Rio Vista Bridge, in part because raising the drawbridge for river traffic backs up traffic on busy Highway 12. They want a high, arching bridge such as the Antioch Bridge with plenty of room for boats, or perhaps even a tunnel under the Sacramento River.

But no money is available for a project that could top $1 billion. For the foreseeable future, remaining on the job will be the 1960 bridge named shortly after its opening as “the most beautiful steel bridge” by the American Institute of Steel Construction.

Fifty-four years old? Make that 54 years young.

“It works great,” Esperson said.

Esperson is among the 17 bridge tenders for drawbridges operated by the state Department of Transportation in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta region, 10 of whom work full-time and seven of whom are on call. He’s worked on the Three Mile Slough bridge, the Potato Slough bridge, the Mokelumne River bridge.

“The personality of a bridge tender has to be somewhat of a loner type person, who spends a large amount of time alone and it doesn’t bother him,” Esperson said.

He’s working the 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. shift this particular day. Day or night, sun or rain, someone is inside that concrete office in the middle of the bridge, ready to operate the drawbridge equipment.

“Anytime – 24 hours,” Esperson said.

The Rio Vista Bridge roadway is only as high as the levee on the Sacramento River’s eastern bank. Boats had 18 feet of clearance between the river and the bottom of the bridge on this recent morning at a higher tide.

That’s certainly not enough room for the cargo ships periodically heading to and from the Port of Sacramento. They carry rice, fertilizer and other products. Esperson has seen them hauling blades and towers for the giant, white wind turbines that are frequently being built in the Montezuma Hills near Rio Vista.

If one of those big ships is coming, it contacts the bridge tender while it is still some distance away. Esperson said it can take about 15 minutes between raising the bridge, allowing the ship to pass and lowering the bridge.

But the Rio Vista Bridge doesn’t even have enough clearance for many a sailboat. A sailboat might cause the drawbridge to go up for about five minutes.

All of this can make for some busy days for the bridge tender, though on this recent morning the bridge didn’t have to rise at all. Most of the calls for boaters that could be heard on a radio were for the raising of Three Mile Slough bridge visible in the distance.

The Rio Vista Bridge rises about 56 times during a winter month and more than 300 times during a summer month, when recreational boaters are out, according to a 2010 report by the consulting firm Aecom.

But the drawbridge has historically been even busier. It got raised as many as 780 times during a peak month soon after it got built, the May 1960 edition of California Highway and Public Works said.

Esperson grew up in Rio Vista. He recalled as a 9-year-old standing on the banks of the Sacramento River and looking at damage caused by a ship that hit the Rio Vista Bridge. The Italian freighter Ilice on Jan. 15, 1967, had aimed for the drawbridge section that had been raised, but missed amid the fog.

The bridge came out in worse shape than the ship. The Ilice continued on its journey within a matter of hours. The bridge suffered an estimated $600,000 in damage along a 140-foot section and was closed for three weeks.

“I saw it the next day,” Esperson said. “The road was literally hanging down into the water.”

He became a bridge tender about 25 years ago. It was one of the better job opportunities available in the city, he said.

On a busy day, a bridge tender has plenty to do. Esperson recalled the time on the Three Mile Slough Bridge, when he had to raise the drawbridge 34 times during his shift.

The 1960 Rio Vista Bridge was a long time coming. The eastern portion of 1,300 feet was completed in 1949 and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1950 approved building the final portion of the new span. But it took almost a decade to get the money and complete the job.

“Modern Lift Structure Spans Lower Sacramento” read the headline over that May 1960 California Highway and Public Works article.

Fifty-four years later, the Rio Vista Bridge no longer qualifies as modern. But it is still on the job.

Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or beberling@dailyrepublic.net. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.

Barry Eberling

Barry Eberling

Barry Eberling has been a reporter with the Daily Republic since 1987. He covers Solano County government, transportation, growth and the environment. He received his bachelors of art degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara and his masters degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley.
LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

  • Recent Articles

  • Enter your email address to subscribe and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • .

    Solano News

     
    Sondheim’s ‘Woods’ holiday showcase for Missouri Street Theatre

    By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Groundbreakings, ribbon-cuttings play role in civic life

    By Barry Eberling | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Frankye Kelly ready to spread holiday cheer

    By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B1

     
    Celebrate the magic of Christmas

    By Tony Wade | From Page: A2, 1 Comment

     
    Santas have busy week at schools

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3, 1 Comment

     
    Safe streets task force work nets 3

    By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A3

     
     
    Solano College approves officers, meeting schedule

    By Susan Winlow | From Page: A4

    Longtime Suisun harbor master to retire

    By Ian Thompson | From Page: A4

     
    Mosquito abatement district board has opening

    By Ian Thompson | From Page: A4

     
    Fairfield police log: Dec. 17, 2014

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

     
    Suisun City police log: Dec. 17, 2014

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

    Police arrest 2nd suspect in Fairfield credit union robbery

    By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A12 | Gallery

     
    .

    US / World

    Spy’s parents search for son after Cuba-US deal

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

     
    Hope and some fear in Cuba amid thaw with US

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

    Next steps on Cuba: Normalizing could take awhile

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

     
    Sony hacking fallout puts all companies on alert

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

    Sony film took aim at North Korea’s biggest taboo

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

     
    Timeline of the Sony Pictures Entertainment hack

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

    Digital dilemma: How will US respond to Sony hack?

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

     
    Rubio, other Congressional Cubans step up Obama criticism

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

    CHP, Oakland in tiff over plainclothes officers at protests

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

     
    Local emergencies in Northern California counties after rain

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

    California’s top utility regulator defends record

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

     
    ‘Pretty horrible’ scene; car slams into crowd

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

    San Francisco Bay Bridge fasteners not in danger of failing

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

     
    Police: Drunk man shot while entering wrong house

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

    Tsarnaev appears in court for 1st time since 2013

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

     
    President signs legislation ending Nazi benefit checks

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

    2 states challenge Colorado marijuana legalization

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A8

     
    ‘Prison Houdini’ set to make his 1st legal escape

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A8

    Top Islamic militants killed; more US troops going to Iraq

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A8

     
    Feds sue NYC over Rikers Island jail violence

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A8

    Russian sailors leaving France without warship

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

     
    Putin: West wants to defang, declaw Russian bear

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

    European court rules obesity can be a disability

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

     
    Suspected Islamic extremists kidnap 185 in Nigeria

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

    .

    Opinion

    Another look at school bonds

    By George Guynn Jr. | From Page: A11

     
    Editorial Cartoon: Dec. 19, 2014

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A11

    News of the day strikes a chord

    By Bud Stevenson | From Page: A11

     
    America’s response to the torture report shameful

    By Clive Crook | From Page: A11

     
    .

    Living

    Today in History: Dec. 19, 2014

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    Community Calendar: Dec. 19, 2014

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

    Horoscopes: Dec. 19, 2014

    By Holiday Mathis | From Page: D8

     
    Should I use Child Protective Services threat to get back rent?

    By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: D8

    .

    Entertainment

    Week in preview Dec. 19-25, 2014

    By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B1

     
    Sweet ‘Night at the Museum’ bids farewell to Robin Williams

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    Review: ‘The Hobbit’ wraps with a Middle Earth melee

    By Jake Coyle | From Page: B2 | Gallery

     
    Craig Ferguson to end 10 years as host of ‘Late Late Show’

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

    Eric Idle brings ‘Not the Messiah’ to Carnegie Hall

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

     
    Entertainment calendar Dec. 19, 2014

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: B4

    .

    Sports

    A’s trade All-Star catcher Derek Norris to Padres

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

     
    Warriors beat Thunder 114-109 after Durant injury

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

     
    A’s acquire lefty De La Rosa from Arizona for cash

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

    Raiders defense depleted by injuries

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

     
    49ers’ Harbaugh mum on reported offer from Michigan

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

    49ers’ Aldon Smith hopes to build off tough year

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

     
    Column: Thaw in US-Cuba relations warms up MLB

    By Jim Litke | From Page: B8

    Rivera: Newton ‘probably’ will start vs. Browns

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

     
    Bears bench QB Jay Cutler for Clausen

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

    ‘Hands Up’ players to attend Ferguson Christmas party

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

     
    Celtics trade Rondo to Mavericks

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

    Rodriguez boys open Les Curry Tournament with victory

    By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B8

     
    39 bowl games and a reason to watch every one

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

    Signups for Friday, Dec. 19, 2014

    By Paul Farmer | From Page: B9

     
    This date in sports history for Friday, Dec. 19, 2014

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

    Sports on TV/Local sports for Friday, Dec. 19, 2014

    By Paul Farmer | From Page: B11

     
    .

    Business

    Roomiest Subaru Legacy debuts for 2015

    By Ann M. Job | From Page: C1

     
    Dow industrials have their best day in three years

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

    Ford expands drivers air bag recall nationwide

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

     
    Constantly changing online prices stump shoppers

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

    .

    Obituaries

    Lisa Dee McHughes

    By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

     
    Dominic C. Scolaro

    By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

    Ernest “Ernie” Moretti

    By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

     
    Travis Curt Price

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

    Jennie Ponce Reyes

    By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

     
    Patricia “Pat” Anne Stringfield-Pierre

    By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

    .

    Comics