Healdsburg Hero's Work Ultimately Saves Memorial Bridge

One man's selfless act laid the groundwork to save our bridge.

If you've lived in Healdsburg any time at all, you probably know about the debates over whether to keep the or build another.  Those debates ended recently and the Healdsburg City Council voted to rehabilitate the bridge.

What you may not know is that during the debate process, one man emerged as Healdsburg's hero to those who worked so hard to save our town's precious landmark.

Mel Amato watched bridge debates for years and knew they were based around a set of Caltrans calculations saying the bridge was not safe. 

What Amato did next, few of us ever think to do. He questioned the accuracy of foundational factors that created years of questions about the bridge's safety. 

An electrical engineer by trade, Amato painstakingly redid the bridge calculations. Shockingly, he discovered they were wrong.

After much research,  Caltrans verified Amato's calculations which showed the bridge was safe!

That's the short version. I wanted to know the backstory. I asked Amato what caused him to look into the accuracy of the original Caltrans calculations.

"In 2007, then-Mayor Gary Plass requested that I review the 2007 HDR engineering report which presented a cost comparison of several bridge alternatives --- replacement with a concrete  'box' bridge, rehabilitation and replacement with an expensive 'look alike' truss bridge," Amato said.

The HDR report did not check the original 1979 Caltrans ratings, which were always taken as a ''given," Amato said.  The two ratings, inventory and sufficiency, were 0 and 2, respectively, on a scale of 0 to 100.  These ratings made the bridge unsafe.

"These ratings were based upon the new, 'as built' (in 1921) condition of the bridge. There was no deterioration due to wear and tear or rust.  Such an 'as built' rating made absolutely no sense to me," Amato said.

Amato said he then requested the supporting Caltrans calculations from the city.

"After critically checking all of the steps, which took about 40 days, I ultimately found that Caltrans made some erroneous assumptions about the pins, which affect the buckling strength," he said. "Photos of the pin location are included on our www.headsburgmemorialbridge.com website history section --- "A 29-Year Error."

"Next, I crawled under the bridge to measure the pin location of an easily accessible pin (that photo is also on our website too)," Amato said.

Based upon that measurement and photos of the upper truss pin locations, Amato said he estimated the actual pin location (later confirmed by the city and Caltrans and more recently by OmniMeans measurements).

"Using that pin location, I recalculated the inventory rating and the sufficiency rating," he said. "My calculation showed a sufficiency rating of about 53 which is above the level allowable (50) for Federal Funding of a replacement bridge.

"I reported my findings," he added. "In August of 2008, Caltrans reinspected the bridge and declared it to be fully legal in a November 2008 report."

According to Amato, Caltrans "rescinded" the posted truck load limits (still posted) which had been erroneously posted since 1983. That report is posted on the city's bridge project website, www.healdsburgbridge.com."

At this point, the Healdsburg City Council still had a proposal to create a new bridge.  Amato and his friends -- David Dietz, Ellen Minter, Keith Power and Deb Viola -- co-founded Friends of Healdsburg Memorial Bridge, a nonprofit organization solely dedicated to saving the bridge.

They presented their case. After much debate, the City Council voted to save and rehabilitate the Healdsburg Memorial Bridge. 

You can read more to your heart's content online, sign the petition to show your friendship at  www.HealdsburgMemorialBridge.com or join Friends Of Healdsburg Memorial Bridge on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Friends-of-Healdsburg-Memorial-Bridge/108151325878041?ref=search&sid=100000468043194.4192426440..1

And now that you know the backstory, you may want to thank Amato and his group for their hard work!

LindaM December 21, 2010 at 08:14 PM
We are very lucky to have Mel in our community. Thanks Mel for all your hard work on this project!
Pat Wyman December 21, 2010 at 08:37 PM
Hi Linda, Thank you for your comment, and yes we are fortunate. He's a remarkable man and hopefully, gets that dinner he so deserves. Happy Holidays, Pat


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