Trancas Bridge Rebuild to Include Temporary Traffic Light

Damage photographed in 2016 on the Trancas bridge.

A long-awaited project to replace the deteriorating Trancas Creek Bridge now includes a temporary traffic light and crosswalk to be installed on Pacific Coast Highway at Guernsey Avenue, drawing criticism from residents concerned the signal installation could bring unwanted traffic to the neighborhood. Advocates for the project said the light would enhance safety at a dangerous western Malibu intersection.

Last month, the Malibu Planning Commission voted to approve permits for the project, including the installation of a traffic light between Morning View Drive and the Trancas Bridge, despite some residents’ objections.

The light will be installed by Caltrans in conjunction with the Caltrans’ plan to replace the century-old Trancas Bridge, which is suffering from erosion, according to Malibu Assistant Planning Director Richard Mollica.

The bridge was studied for four years before the project’s launch, passing California Coastal Commission standards, an environmental review board and two public scoping meetings—one in 2016 and one two months ago in 2020. According to Caltrans Senior Environmental Planner Karl Price, the bridge was only designed for a 50-year lifespan, meaning it should have been replaced in 1977. When Matt Holm, a Caltrans structural engineer, performed a visual inspection under the bridge in 2016, he said he could “literally break concrete off with [his] bare hands.”

The new bridge will be longer than the original, at 240 feet; the current bridge is just under 100 feet. 

At the public’s request, there will be a footpath beneath the new bridge to replace the one that is already widely used beneath the current bridge, often used by residents to reach Trancas Country Market. 

The bridge will be built with mind to the potential for a National Park Service’s Trancas Lagoon and Creek Restoration program project: the longer span “will provide necessary hydrological dynamics … to restore the Trancas Lagoon that was historically present” and will allow for the return of the endangered southern steelhead trout. 

Planning commissioner Jeff Jennings also urged Caltrans to factor in that arrowheads and pot shards have often been found beneath the bridge after heavy rainfalls, telling them to be prepared to shut down work if and when cultural artifacts are discovered.

Because of winter rainfall filling the construction site, the new bridge will have to be built over a two-year period, with workers completing the majority of construction during the April to November dry season. Mollica estimated that total construction time would be 27 months and total cost was estimated by engineers to be $13.5 million. 

Necessary detours will move pedestrian and bike traffic onto one side of the highway while the other half of the bridge is built. Detours also mean a traffic bottleneck on PCH, which has resulted in a plan for the installation of the Guernsey traffic light. 

The light is intended to ensure safety at what is considered by many to be an already-dangerous intersection even without the slated construction project. Currently, the turn left onto PCH from Guernsey is unprotected. SMMUSD Facilities Chief Operations Officer Carey Upton called the turn “not safe.” According to reports from KBUU News, there has been some discussion of making the light a permanent fixture. 

But not everybody is happy about the new light. Many nearby residents are concerned it might bring unwanted traffic through an otherwise quiet community.

Local filmmaker and Malibu resident Raja Gosnell addressed the planning commission at its Tuesday, Sept. 8, meeting, saying he was worried about light pollution that might spill into his yard and noise pollution and airborne pollutants “that will inevitably come up from the trucks and motorcycles stopping, idling and accelerating away from a dead stop” outside his home. 

Mazza, speaking in an interview with The Malibu Times, said the commission assured Gosnell the light would be gone after two years and that Caltrans had sent a comprehensive letter to him and all other interested parties addressing Gosnell’s concerns.

During the planning commission meeting, Mazza told the planning commission that “the more [stop] lights you have on PCH, the worse it is.” In a later interview with The Malibu Times, Mazza elaborated: “More lights slow down traffic … [They do] make things safer but you have to get from here to there. Three lights lets you get into Santa Monica faster than if you have ten. Plus, it’s a highway so limited in the amount of lights you can put.” Mazza also mentioned that the traffic lights in western Malibu are not part of the signal synchronization project that allows lights on the eastern part of PCH to function smoothly together.

The Guernsey traffic light will also likely change the way traffic flows to Malibu High School, which has a roadway construction project of its own on the horizon: a turnaround on campus, which will ensure that parents and students driving up Morning View Drive would not have to make “ugly U-turns” in Upton. The turnaround has been planned as the first phase of Malibu High’s new campus plan. Upton estimated the turnaround would be finished in two and a half years at the earliest. 

Upton said that SMMUSD would be analyzing whether or not the Guernsey light would be helpful or not to install permanently in a traffic study they were doing, but that initially, he did believe the light would be helpful. 

“Quite simply, it will offer a positive option for people who are visiting the high school campus,” Upton said, while at the same time acknowledging that residents who live west of the high school on Morning View would be subject to more traffic if the light were made permanent.