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Chimney Rock Road's temporary bridge opens up to the public

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As of June 30, residents and non-resident motorists could cross the path washed out by fierce winter storms on Chimney Rock Road thanks to a temporary bridge.

"Our goal is to put the road back the way it was," San Luis Obispo County Deputy Public Works Director John Waddell said. "The most likely scenario is that while we have this temporary bridge up, we can turn to FEMA funding and disaster recovery grants to put it back the way it was."

The one-lane bridge constructed by SLO County Public Works and Souza Construction and completed on June 30 will allow residents and motorists to cross an 80-foot-long and 50-foot-deep canyon that formed beneath Chimney Rock Road.

"It can hold the standard legal highway semi-truck of 80,000 pounds," Waddell said. "It is only one lane, however, so drivers will have to take turns using it to get across."

SLO County Public Works advises motorists to use caution and obey speed limits as the bridge is only designed to be a temporary means of crossing.

"Residents and motorists are advised to use caution and adhere to advisory signs in the area including a strict 15 miles per hour speed limit on and near the one-lane bridge," a press release from SLO County Public Works said.

When storms initially destroyed the road in January, emergency crews scrambled to build a temporary path to provide access for construction, emergency, and residential vehicles that had become stranded as a result of the damage.

But a second set of storms hit the same road washing out that temporary road, creating the canyon the temporary bridge now hangs over, and requiring public works to build a new separate road to complete the construction of the bridge.

Now that the bridge is complete, the second construction road—which was described as a "miracle" of public works collaboration—will be removed, at least partially, before the next rainy season.

"We plan to leave it in place through this fall but remove it before the next rainy season," Waddell said. "It will involve moving the gravel and boulders out of the flow channel—which in turn will open up the channel so the creek can flow through."

The county is beginning the process of designing a permanent bridge that may take into consideration the impact this winter's washouts had on the previous culvert.

"FEMA does offer some form of mitigation funding that could go to making the bridge better," he said. "In that case, that money would go to increasing the size of the culverts to better support the road."

Waddell said he expects the design process to be completed within this year, after which he expects the construction to be finalized sometime in late 2024, subject to FEMA approval.

"Our goal would be to design the new structure throughout this year and have the repairs in by late 2024," he said. "But that's all subject to change based on FEMA and working with them and the approval process." Δ

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