A Bridge for SeaWorld on Its Way Over the San Diego River

by on January 3, 2019 · 4 comments

in Ocean Beach

Looking west along the construction site that is east of the bridge. All photos by Frank Gormlie, unless otherwise indicated.

You’ve seen the cranes and all the equipment parked next to the bridge over the San Diego River, undoubtedly.

The giant building hardware and all the workers are busy replacing the old, ’50’s 4-lane bridge, called the West Mission Bay Drive bridge which stretches across the river. It will be replaced with two new, 3-lane bridges, with protected bike paths on both spans.

It’s all part of the City plan to help improve traffic flow to SeaWorld and the beach communities.

View of the bridge approaching from OB, looking eastward.

The current West Mission Bay Drive bridge is one of the primary arteries funneling people and cars to the entrance of SeaWorld, just a couple thousand feet away from the end of the bridge, and into the city’s central beach neighborhoods. And aren’t we lucky. SeaWorld money will help pay for it.

The pathway is unobstructed during the weekends.

The project will supposedly cost $110 million, with its funding from a variety of sources, including:

  • $4.9 million from Sea World traffic mitigation,
  • $91.5 million from a Federal Highway Administration grand fund, and
  • $13.5 million from a Transnet Extension fee.

SeaWorld has been having troubles of late – and as Mayor Faulconer’s budget benefits from good attendance figures at the controversial aquatic park on public property – the least the city can do is help them up with better traffic flow. (Although some grassroots critics predict the traffic will just get worse. (See comments to earlier article on the bridge.)

Pathway east of the bridge.

Here’s some interesting factoids about the bridge reconstruction:

  • The use of a unique construction method will leave traffic on the existing bridge uninterrupted for the duration of the project.
  • A temporary staging and construction bridge will be built next to the northbound side of the bridge, which will hold the construction equipment needed to build the new three-lane northbound bridge.
  • Crews will then place structural supports deep into the ground (between the existing bridge and temporary construction bridge), and build the new bridge roadway on top of the supports.
  • Once the northbound bridge is completed, the temporary bridge will be removed from the northbound side, and rebuilt along the southbound side to repeat the process.

This was the same bridge construction site that then-councilwoman Lorie Zapf – running hard to keep her seat – joined Mayor Faulconer back on May 30, just 6 days before the June Primary, for a major photo op announcing the new bridges.

Workers did surround some of the larger trees at the site with orange netting.

At the time, both Faulconer and Zapf wanted to improve their images before the public; Faulconer had just released his city budget, touting it as “the largest infrastructure investment in San Diego history”, and Zapf wanted also to appear like she’s down on infrastructure.

Screen grab of animated video.

And here’s a nifty cartoon video timeline of the reconstruction of the bridge.

Plus here’s a more complete  construction animation with end point improvement for your viewing enjoyment https://www.sandiego.gov/sites/default/files/west_mission_bay_drive_bridge_-_construction_animation_0.mp4

At the end (after the tiny little crane stops dancing) a bigger Sea World Drive intersection magically blossoms. (Hat tip to Peter of Oceanside)


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

ZZ January 4, 2019 at 1:08 pm

Both Sea World Drive and this bridge really don’t have traffic problems normally. Even during rush hour, the only issues are the flow at the end with Sunset Cliffs and Nimitz and entering 5 North. Those don’t have any easy fixes.

Still, for a lot less than the price of the bridge or creation of a new interchange with 5 south, Sea World Drive could be expanded to 3 lanes. There is plenty of space for it, and it would really help during the periods when 1 lane is shut down for palm tree trimming, accidents, construction, etc. Right turn only lanes could also be added or expanded on northbound SWD.


Pete R January 4, 2019 at 5:00 pm

The main reason for this project isn’t improving traffic – it’s that the existing bridge is well past its design life and needs to be replaced. Doing nothing isn’t an option.

Unfortunately, most of our infrastructure is in this same state – built 50+ years ago and ready to be replaced. But at $100 million per bridge, we have little hope of ever getting ahead of the problem…


Frank Gormlie January 5, 2019 at 6:09 pm

Totally agree about the need for renewed infrastructure. Back in May, Mayor Faulconer did stress the traffic flow: In a press release, Mayor Faulconer said:

“This bridge replacement project is a perfect example as we modernize and expand one of our busiest roadways to ensure that San Diegans and visitors have easy access to our world-class beaches.”


Frances O'Neill Zimmerman January 5, 2019 at 2:32 pm

Such an interesting story and photos! That two-sided bridge-building animation is nifty, even if it is “Finnish.” (Isn’t that where the people prevent wildfires by raking their forests?)
Lately huge infrastructure projects around town — like the elevated trolley line going up near UCSD — have drastically changed once-familiar geography and landscape. Isn’t this engineering? I’d like to hear from an engineer what it’s like to work on such landmarks, whether it’s fun, and what training and preparation is needed to learn to do it.


Leave a Comment

Older Article:

Newer Article: