Caltrans Planning Lead Cleanup Project


The California Department of Transportation has unveiled plans to clean up soil contaminated with lead shavings left from painting work done on the Salmon Creek Bridge in Albion, California, during the 1950s and ‘60s.

According to reports, the soil beneath the bridge, including some soil on private property, has shown lead contamination past the acceptable levels for human health. In response, Caltrans plans to remove about 21 million pounds of soil.

Cleanup Plans

According to the Mendocino Voice, a public comment period opened on March 21 for the cleanup plan, which is scheduled to officially begin in 2026 as the first steps in a larger plan to replace the bridge by 2030.

According to officials, if each truck being used for the cleanup project averaged 12 tons, it would result in about 862 loads of contaminated soil being removed. Additionally, replacement soil would be trucked in for this project.

An analysis on soil removal was prepared by Geocon, a consultant for Caltrans and the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC). Caltrans reportedly plans to transport the lead contaminated soil in covered truck trailers to California-licensed Class I or II landfill facilities based on landfill acceptance criteria.

Additionally, the total lead content was reported for 77 soil samples with concentrations ranging from 2.6 to 1,300 milligrams per kilogram.

The steel and concrete Salmon Creek Bridge, built during a post-World War II expansion boom, is now considered an inappropriate design, located so close to the ocean and salty, rust-causing winds.

Caltrans stated that the bridge is functionally obsolete due to being narrow and not meeting current standards for shoulders and guardrails. Additionally, maintenance costs are reportedly high because the steel beams must be repainted regularly.

Removal and replacement was reportedly the only recommendation because of this issue. Additionally, between 1950 and 1999, lead-based paints were used and the shavings were not contained when the bridge was sanded down for new paint.

Caltrans stated that, as a result of this, lead contamination has been detected on both private and public property. Cleanup measures will reportedly include putting caps on private roads and driveways. Contamination under the bridge must be remediated before Caltrans can go forward with replacement plans.

The one-lane road that goes under the Salmon Creek Bridge is expected to be widened for trucks below to carry away contaminated soil, and eventually for other work to be done. Bridge inspection reports have identified insufficient maintenance as a reason the bridge’s steel top got so rusty that replacement became the only option.

The Geocon study has reportedly showed elevated lead and zinc levels, leading to the decision that removal of the lead-impacted soil was needed on both state- and privately-owned parcels. Other heavy metals were searched for, but only zinc and lead contamination were found.

“The Project Site was previously occupied by the town of Whitesboro that was established in the 1870s as a railhead and wharf for loading of cut lumber with no remaining structures in recent times. Review of Caltrans’ maintenance records for the Salmon Creek Bridge indicates that ‘Red Lead’ and ‘Zinc Rich’ paint was utilized in the 1950s and 1960s,” the DTSC report said.

“Historical bridge paint sandblasting operations (paint removal/preparation using sandblast media) did not include containment measures. Since 1999 bridge painting operations have included 100% containment,” the report further explained.

The report also lists 40 plant and animal species of concern that could be found on the site, from Coho Salmon migrating through to Arroyo thickets. However, the report found no significant impacts to these species or other factors that would necessitate the use of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process.

Additionally, Caltrans states that a revegetation process would be used for hydroseeding, utilizing local cuttings and duff and installating new plants. The department added that concrete vegetation control would also be placed at all new guardrails, according to Caltrans standards.

There will reportedly be other public processes before the remediation starts. Other regulatory permits will reportedly need to be obtained for the Salmon Creek Sandblast Waste Abatement Project, including:

  • California Coastal Commission Coastal Development Permit;
  • North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board 401 Water Quality Certification;
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 404 Nationwide Permit 38;
  • California Department of Fish and Wildlife Lake and Streambed Alteration Agreement;
  • Letters of concurrence from the United States Fish and Wildlife Services and National Marine Fisheries Service;
  • Mendocino County Coastal Development Permit;
  • Mendocino County Planning and Building Services grading permit; and
  • Mendocino County Air Quality Management District permit.

The public comment period will reportedly run to April 22 for the draft Remedial Action Plan, proposing to clean up lead in soil. This part of the project is expected to cost around $14.8 million.

Replacing the Salmon Creek Bridge and the original plan to replace the Albion River Bridge, located less than a mile away, has reportedly been a center of discussion for the past decade.

The Albion River Bridge, the last tall wooden highway bridge in California, is reportedly listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built during WWII out of recycled materials, due to war rationing. Caltrans now says the Albion River Bridge will also either be replaced or renovated sometime in 2027. 

The replacement project reportedly includes improvements to the structural and geometric deficiencies of the bridge and approach roadways for uninterrupted traffic movements in the event of an accident, seismic event, or other catastrophic failure and reduce ongoing maintenance costs.

Additionally, the project should provide wider shoulders for bicyclists and for motorists experiencing breakdowns and safe bicycle and pedestrian movement across Salmon Creek.

The DTSC plans to hold a public meeting to discuss the draft cleanup plan by Zoom or by phone on April 11 from 6 p.m to 8 p.m.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Bridges; Cleanup; Coating failure; Department of Transportation (DOT); Environmental Control; Environmental Controls; Environmental Protection; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Infrastructure; Infrastructure; Lead; Lead; Lead paint abatement; NA; North America; Paint; Paint Removal; Program/Project Management; Rehabilitation/Repair; Roads/Highways; Safety; Transportation

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