The Park Avenue Bridge that connects Balboa to Little Balboa over the Grand Canal could be up for a rebuild.

The Park Avenue Bridge that connects Balboa to Little Balboa over the Grand Canal could be up for a rebuild. (Don Leach / Daily Pilot / April 12, 2013)

It takes about five seconds to cross by car, maybe double that by foot.

Since about 1930, the Park Avenue Bridge has connected Little Balboa Island to its larger, more bustling neighbor, Balboa Island.

In the coming years, however, the situation there is poised to significantly, albeit temporarily, change for the steady streams of pedestrians and cars that traverse the bridge's nearly 100-foot span.

After repeated official designations as "functionally obsolete" by the state, the nearly 85-year-old bridge is eligible for a complete replacement using federal funds, but the logistics of construction in the dense area — not to mention the fact that the bridge is Little Balboa's only practical access point — are still being worked out.

"It's just one of those projects that takes time to get through all the hoops," said Councilman Ed Selich, whose district includes the two islands. "But there are still a few hoops to go."

The city, California Department of Transportation, state Coastal Commission and federal authorities, to name a few, will be playing a role in the project, which is in its preliminary stages.

Though once they receive the various permissions and complete the design process, city officials hope to begin construction by late 2015, after summer, which is typically bustling. A one-year construction phase is anticipated for the estimated $2-million to $3-million bridge, with a new span in place in late 2016.


Initial trouble with the storybook curve

The Park Avenue Bridge — also called the Little Balboa Island Bridge or Little Balboa Bridge — has two narrow lanes for cars and pedestrian walkways on either side. Two ramps on each end of the bridge provide pedestrian access.

The bridge has remained largely unchanged since its late-1920s construction, though, according to the federal National Bridge Inventory, it is not eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

With a slight upward curve, it gracefully spans in storybook fashion over the Grand Canal, which bifurcates the two islands of Newport Harbor.

While aesthetically pleasing, that curve was one of the initial hang-ups in getting approvals, said Selich, who added that a new Park Avenue Bridge has been a topic of discussion since his council tenure began in 2005.

"You couldn't build it that way under new design standards," Selich said.

Caltrans had to make an exemption for the planned replacement bridge to have the same curve, Selich said.

The state ruled the curve would be OK, he said, because of the low speed cars take to travel the span.

The city has received $240,000 for environmental review and engineering of a new bridge, which is planned to be wider for vehicles and pedestrians, said Pat Thomas, Newport's deputy public works director.

The replacement would be 36 feet wide — four feet wider than now — with 12-foot wide car lanes, a slight increase over the current ones.

The pedestrian lanes would be wider as well. The concrete barriers currently on the outside of the bridge would be reconstructed onto the inside, thus better protecting and separating pedestrians from the passing traffic, Thomas said.

Replacing the outside concrete barrier would be open railings, he added.