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Bridge to the future
River Islands moving forward with $17M SJ River crossing
River Islands at Lathrop is on target to break ground on a new four-lane bridge crossing of the San Joaquin River. - photo by RYAN BALBUENA
LATHROP — It is the ultimate vote of confidence in the future economic vitality of South San Joaquin County.

River Islands at Lathrop is breaking ground in early 2011 to construct a set of two-lane bridges across the San Joaquin River. The $17 million project will put in place twin 300-foot-long bridge decks to ultimately connect the heart of the proposed 10,800-home River Islands planned community with the neighborhoods in the Mossdale Landing area of west Lathrop.

What makes the bridge unique is the fact it will not only stand unused for at least three years  after  it is finished but there won’t be a roadway connecting to it on either side during that time nor will the dirt embankment be built up for the approach roads. In short, it will look like a giant twin canopy over the river between the time it is done and the market catches up to create a demand for the roads.

“It shows how much faith we have in the economy coming back,” said Susan Dell’Osso who serves as project development manager for Cambay Group.

The privately held England-based firm has eclipsed $180 million in terms of its investment in River Islands. That represents  everything from building the West Coast’s first 300-foot wide levees that have put in place 200-year flood protection for the 4,800-acre project to securing an adequate water supply, creating manmade lakes, and investing in land and development studies required by law.

Two practical considerations drove the decision to move forward. One was the fact the various federal and state permits allowing the building of a new river crossing expire in August 2011. That means much of the work must be completed by then or else the permit expire at River Islands would have to go through the lengthy review process again without any guarantee of approval. Also, construction costs are down due to contractors not be inundated with business.

Work has recently been completed in upgrading the northern river levees at the bridge that is named Bradshaw Crossing in honor of Mike Bradshaw. Dell’Osso noted Bradshaw devoted much of his life to trying to “bridge” older and newer sections of Lathrop so they would be seamlessly as possible as one community.

The sections closest to shore on each side are being prefabricated and put in place using barges. After those sections are in place, the missing part of the spans will be constructed.

Initially the bridge will be pretty basic. But once the time nears to build roads connecting to the bridge, architectural gingerbread will be added.

Each bridge deck will have room for two travel lanes, a bicycle land, and an expansive sidewalk.

The bridges will literally end above the ground until at least 2015. That will create a 10-foot drop off to the ground form the bridge deck on both sides. The dirt for the approach roads won’t be put in place until construction is ready to proceed on the streets.

Ultimately the bridge will tie into Louise Avenue. It will serve as a surface bypass to the often crowded Interstate 205 corridor between Lathrop and Tracy.

The earliest River Islands now expects for homes to break ground is in 2012.

Dell’Osso said they intend to hold off actually building homes until the economy strengthens a bit more.