A man and a dog walk across a narrow footbridge above a four lane highway in the Oakland hills.
A man and his dog walk across the Bruns Court pedestrian bridge in Montclair on Sept. 27, 2023. Credit: Jose Fermoso

A well-worn pedestrian bridge in Montclair is going to be torn down. 

According to the state’s transportation department, Caltrans, the Bruns Court Pedestrian Overcrossing, which allows people to walk over Highway 13 and Moraga Avenue from Bruns Court to Montclair Park, must be replaced because it is seismically unsafe. During a virtual public meeting Tuesday, officials said the structure is especially vulnerable to collapse because it lies about 200 feet from the Hayward Fault. 

Locals use the bridge to get to the park to play baseball and pickleball, or to walk their kids to Montclair Elementary School without crossing Moraga Avenue, which has two driving lanes each way and features many speeding cars. 

According to Caltrans records, the overcrossing is also non-compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and has inadequate vertical clearance on the freeway and residential roads under it.  

The bridge has been in use since 1956. Caltrans says it plans to build a replacement which will be completed by 2026. 

The state is partnering with Oakland’s Department of Transportation to develop the new bridge, as its elements may force the city to take on more financial and right-of-way responsibilities.

There are currently 3 options to replace the crossing

A steep flight of stairs connects Montclair Park to the Bruns Court pedestrian bridge in the Oakland hills.
The Bruns Court bridge currently allows pedestrians to walk over Moraga Avenue directly into Montclair Park. Credit: Jose Fermoso

The first option would be to remove the current crossing and build a new one made of concrete that ends with a large “switchback” ramp on the land between the freeway and Moraga Avenue. This option would force the city to install a crosswalk on Moraga Avenue, likely featuring flashing beacons. Some residents said this would be a setback, providing less of a service to pedestrians than the older bridge. 

The second option would replace the concrete bridge with a new one, but its pedestrian offramp would land on the side of the park, like the current crossing. The ramp would also be designed straight down, at a safe angle, and would not be a switchback design. This option would not change the main roadway, leaving two lanes on each side. 

The third option would add a new concrete bridge across the freeway and Moraga Avenue and would have the same straight-down ramp design. But it would take away one driving lane in each direction on Moraga to add a buffered bike lane. 

The fourth and final option would be the most disruptive for people used to taking the crossing into the park: It would remove the old crossing without replacing it. Instead, the state would work with Oakland to upgrade the La Salle Avenue Overcrossing, a bridge located 800 feet south of the Bruns Court Crossing that includes a sidewalk and vehicle lanes. Officials say they would expand the existing LaSalle sidewalks, but renderings show the walkways wouldn’t grow by much because, according to OakDOT engineer Jason Patton, there isn’t much space to work with. 

“La Salle Avenue has a number of challenges that may or may not be known to property owners along that street,” Patton said about the homes on the west side of the freeway, which would likely lose part of their front landscaping and have their irrigation systems replaced. But that’s not all. “Even if [La Salle] were to be widened to include a sidewalk, the slopes are still challenging, and the driveways create complications,” Patton said. 

A rendering by Caltrans of the third design option of the crossing, which would add a bike lane on both sides of the road. Credit: Caltrans

The La Salle option would also include a “sharrows” design for bikes, a controversial design in many places because it forces bikes to share lanes with cars. 

“It’s something we could explore further, but at this point, there is no plan to widen the width of the bridge,” said a Caltrans engineer about LaSalle. 

The state engineers told the people watching the meeting yesterday that they will work with the city to reduce potential disruption during the demolition of the old bridge and the addition of the new one, and they will notify residents ahead of time if Moraga Avenue is closed.

Local residents have concerns about all of the proposals

A line of four cars idle on a narrow bridge over a highway that connects a residential neighborhood to a commercial strip in the Oakland hills.
The LaSalle Avenue bridge over Highway 13 includes sidewalks. Caltrans and the city are considering whether to upgrade the crossing after they tear down the Bruns Court pedestrian bridge. Credit: Jose Fermoso

One resident who called into the meeting said they want the state to leave all the parking in place and prefer Caltrans create a crossing ramp that with an entrance in Montclair the park. Caltrans engineer Wahida Rashid answered that while a direct park landing was the state’s original idea, there is a law that prohibits Caltrans from taking park space for this type of project. 

“The team worked really hard to try to come up with solutions that would minimize environmental impacts,” Lydia Mac, a Caltrans engineer, told the audience yesterday. 

All options, except the fourth, would remove between 12 and 26 parking spaces on both sides of Moraga Avenue, in front of the park, to accommodate accommodate the pedestrian ramps. 

One resident asked whether removing two of the four vehicle lanes on Moraga would force the state or the city to redo the intersection at Thornhill Drive, where traffic often backs up before the freeway on-ramp. The Caltrans engineers said they did not know because it was “beyond the scope of the bridge replacement.”

“Moving forward, we will figure out the best possible alternative. Going into construction in good faith and partnership with the City of Oakland, our main vision is to select the alternative that serves the community the best,” said Rashid.

A woman walks on a pedestrian bridge high over a four-lane road.
A pedestrian crosses over Moraga Avenue, a busy street in Oakland’s Montclair neighborhood. Credit: Jose Fermoso

La Salle Avenue resident Frank Bergamaschi told the Caltrans staffers that he has talked to neighbors and they “all agree that anything but Alternative 4 is much too bulky and intrusive, and the length of ramp daunting for anyone, especially someone with mobility issues.”

Oakland residents who wish to provide feedback to Caltrans at this stage of the project can do so by commenting online, emailing the project’s planning manager Lily Mu at lily.mu@dot.ca.gov, or calling Caltrans at 1-(800) 965-8835. Mu can also be reached via postal mail at the Office of Environmental Analysis, Caltrans District 4, 111 Grand Avenue P.O. Box 23660, MS-8B, Oakland, CA. 

The last day for comments is October 8, 2023.

Correction: We misidentified Highway 13 in the original version of the story.

Jose Fermoso covers road safety, transportation, and public health for The Oaklandside. His previous work covering tech and culture has appeared in publications including The Guardian, The New York Times, and One Zero. Jose was born and raised in Oakland and is the host and creator of the El Progreso podcast, a new show featuring in-depth narrative stories and interviews about and from the perspective of the Latinx community.