I Street Bridge turns 100

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The 75-year-old Tower Bridge connecting Sacramento and West Sacramento may be one of the area’s icons, but the more industrial steel-truss I Street Bridge is older – built 100 years ago.

“The I Street Bridge is a very important part of our business today,” said Aaron Hunt, spokesman for the Union Pacific railroad, which owns the bridge. “We run trains across it every day of the year.”

The I Street Bridge is 363 feet long and weighs about 7 million pounds, according to a fact sheet distributed by Union Pacific.

When it was built, the swinging center of the bridge was the heaviest of its type in the world, and though it no longer holds that distinction, it remains the heaviest in the United States, according to the Sacramento Old City Association.

The bridge swings about 90 degrees on a central pedestal that is 42 feet in diameter and 84 feet high. Opening it allows boat traffic on the river, and Hunt said a Union Pacific staffer stays on-site every day to operate it. The swinging operation takes about two and a half minutes, he added.

When the bridge was renovated in 1993, some major components were replaced, including the disc upon which the bridge rotates. The controlling mechanisms were also changed over from direct-current electrical systems to hydraulic ones.

The first bridge on the site was a wagon bridge built in 1858, which was replaced in 1869 by the area’s first railroad bridge, built by the California Pacific Railroad. It, too, allowed for wagon traffic.

Construction on the current span began in 1910 by the American Bridge Company, and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, according to Hunt.

Union Pacific took ownership of the bridge when it merged with Southern Pacific in 1996, Hunt said, and the cities of Sacramento and West Sacramento maintain the highway portion of the bridge.

Though dated, the bridge still pulls its weight, handling about 80 trains per day in addition to vehicular traffic on its upper deck.

Brandon Darnell is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Darnell.

  • Geoff Samek

    This bridge has always made me ask the question, what’s the newest rail bridge in the continental United States? I don’t see almost any bridges newer than 50 years old.

    Also, will this bridge ever need to be replaced?

    • Brandon Darnell

      Geoff, the bridge is not too far from the end of its intended lifespan, but with renovations and upgrades, it can keep going. If all the major parts are replaced piecemeal, that can be considered a replacement as much as replacing it all at once.

  • Trina Drotar

    I love the I-Street Bridge. I love to watch it swing open when boats are moving under it. I’ve walked and ridden my bike across it, and when a train rolls by underneath, it’s quite the feeling. A bit scary, a bit exciting, and a whole lot fun.

  • A real eye sore. I tried contacting Union Pacific home office in Chicago a few years back to see if they wouldn’t be willing to put a coat of paint. Told CAL TRANS is connected to this bridge in part as in lease in part..Contacted CAL TRANS paint dept but no result. I Street bridge not a very nice contrast to our beautiful Capitol bridge. Wish Sacramento city officials had some clout somewhere to get a push to get this huge eye sore handled and a coat a paint on this historic bridge of ours. I actually started with city officials who told me to contact Union Pacific years ago. Anyone out there have any ideas about getting a coat of paint on this wonderful bridge of ours?

    • It’s old, historic, charming.
      Stop trying to make eceryrhing look new, look cookie cutter. This isn’t granite bay or el dorado hills, love the bridge or leave it alone.

    • Jeffrey Whiteside

      It needs more than just a coat of paint I’m sorry to say! I have personally surveyed the bridge and while mainly structurally sound it’s attachments are not… the Sacramento side is however more sturdy with all the offshoots and amazingly well kept it’s the inner workings I did not get to inspect, but gawd-awful wiring and serious filth from the trains and poor lighting give it its workhorse reputation…..great article by the way! thanks! The West Sacramento stairs that are still in use to access the river walk is a really great thing however that would be a good starting point of repair work hideously dangerous!..and please don’t just close it like sac did on their side. just a cop out to responsibility. Finally the large S connector on the West Sac side shakes something fierce when a truck or the likes goes over it wieght limitations would make this bridge last a lot longer…… okay some green paint might spuce it up a bit too!

    • It’s old and historic but it’s far from charming. It is industrial in look and purpose and should remain that way.

  • William Burg

    I kind of like the way it looks now–tough, gritty and formidable.

  • Keith Sharward

    Interesting article. I knew it was a 1911 bridge and definitely looked it, but I didn’t know it had undergone a renovation in 1993 and other interesting facts.

    I too would like to see the bridge made less, uh, gritty. Cities on both sides of the bridge are trying to develop that area. But if the bridge is privately owned by the railroad, then compelling them to make it more aesthetically pleasing is not a wise investment for them, and I don’t think I’d want taxpayer money spent on that endeavor — so I guess we’re stuck with it.

  • This bridge was the first major span built from here all the way through the Golden Gate. As engineers where busy driving pilings into the riverbed mud, they had to halt construction when a massive sturgeon came upon the work. The fish was “curious” and wouldn’t leave the new construction alone. After running up and down the river for a hundred + years, this was the first obstruction it had ever encountered.

    The workers forged a massive hook, and brought a mule team down to the water’s edge. One jammed the hook up into the poor animal’s protractable, toothless mouth, and together they hauled this 17-foot long Leviathan, 5-foot high at the gills, up onto the ground in Old Sac. The town enjoyed sturgeon BBQ for days. Estimates placed the animal’s weight at 1,700 lbs. It’s age, unknown.

    • Ben Ilfeld

      That is an unbelievable, amazing story. Thanks Ray!

    • Sorta sad.
      We don’t have a healthy evisystem now. I doubt a fish that size would ever be found in our area of the river nowadays.

  • David Watts Barton

    Sounds like a big fish story, aka, a “whopper”!

  • My dad worked for SP, so I’ve heard a lot about the bridge over the years and have crossed it thousands of times as i grew up in Broderick. I too believe that the bridge can be kept going for many years. I’d like to see it stay. On the other hand, a fresh coat of paint would do wonders, not just aesthetically, but to help maintain it. Paint helps immensely in keeping rust and corrosion at bay. If for no other reason, paint it to help maintain it. UP makes millions, this would be a drop in their profit bucket.