State adds funds to Petaluma River Bridge project to protect birds

Caltrans will spend an additional $5.5 million to keep federally protected birds away from its construction site on the Highway 101 bridge over the Petaluma River.
The California Transportation Commission last week approved the amount, acknowledging for the first time the extent of the project’s budget overrun because of measures taken to date — and those that will be needed going forward — to assure birds are not harmed by construction.
The allocation comes as construction crews are busy preparing to demolish a part of the old highway bridge before the migratory cliff swallows return next month from their winter grounds in South America.
The birds for years have made their conical mud nests under the Petaluma River Bridge, which consists of two 907-foot parallel spans. When Caltrans in 2013 embarked on a $130 million project to replace the structure with a wider, six-lane bridge, workers installed nets under the two existing spans to keep the birds from nesting. The nets actually trapped and killed dozens of birds, prompting a lawsuit from a coalition of wildlife advocates.
As part of a settlement agreement, Caltrans took down the nets during the 2014 nesting season and replaced them with hard plastic siding that discourages nesting under the bridge. Caltrans also agreed to pay for biologists to monitor the work site and ensure bird safety, and agreed to demolish the old bridge outside of nesting season, which runs from Feb. 15 to Aug. 15.
The additional expenditures for bird monitoring, legal fees and staff time dealing with the bird issue, including public outreach, raised some eyebrows with the Transportation Commission.
Read more via State adds $5 million to Petaluma River Bridge | The Press Democrat.

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