RIVERSIDE COUNTY, Calif. – Representatives of local, county, state and federal agencies gathered May 27 to celebrate the official completion of the BSNF Railroad Bridge Pier Protection Project in Corona, California.
The purpose of the project is to minimize risk to the railroad bridge in flood conditions and during increased water releases from Prado Dam resulting from periods of heavy rainfall.
The project, which entered the design phase in 2014 and was awarded in 2017, is the result of a partnership among the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Riverside County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, Orange County Public Works and San Bernardino County.
The completion of the more than $100-million bridge pier protection feature is part of the $2.8-billion Santa Ana River Mainstem Project, which is a fully integrated flood-risk management system for the Riverside, Orange and San Bernardino counties, several major freeways, the rail system itself, and an array of businesses and infrastructure in the basin.
“Our vision here in the LA District is to continue delivering top-notch infrastructure to protect the American Southwest,” said Col. Julie Balten, LA District commander, during the ceremony. “This project aims to do just that as one of the final components in a flood-risk management system that will protect the lives of nearly 3 million residents living and working downstream of Prado Dam.
“The success of such an important project cannot be achieved without the collaboration of our local, state and federal partners, and contractors – many of whom are here today with us,” Balten added. “Our success is your success.”
Rep. Ken Calvert, representing the 42nd Congressional District, served as one of the ceremony’s keynote speakers.
“We celebrate the Corps and all of the engineering and improvements that went into this project,” Calvert said. “This bridge goes back to 1938 when we had the floods, and we built this to accommodate that. The dam was built in 1939, and now we’re rebuilding it to make sure it works for future generations.”
The bridge itself accommodates an average of 100 trains per day, including the Metrolink commuter line, and nearly $1 trillion of commerce annually in the U.S. and California.
Also speaking at the ceremony was Karen Spiegel, who chairs the board of supervisors for Riverside County’s 2nd District. Spiegel highlighted how well a group of different organizations and agencies worked together from the start.
“This has been a team effort,” she said. “Everybody here has played a significant role in this accomplishment, including the cities of Eastvale and Norco that are upstream of the dam.”
From design to construction to completion of the project, the Corps of Engineers pulled together more than 100 professionals with diverse expertise in areas including environmental, construction and maintenance, engineering design, real estate, construction and geo-tech – along with the skills and work from its contractors, Malcolm International and AECOM.
“In the Corps of Engineers, I look at us as having four big responsibilities we have to balance every day with every project: One of them is to provide for national security; another one is enabling economic development; third is protecting the environment; and the fourth is to prepare for, and respond to, disasters,” said Brig. Gen. Paul Owen, commander of the Corps’ South Pacific Division. “This project incorporates all four of those things.”
At first glance, Owen said, the project looks to have been a simple one with only a row of concrete piers and bridge abutments, but it required a high degree of behind-the-scenes planning, work, technical expertise, collaboration and specialized equipment.
The project addressed deficiencies at the bridge’s foundation and along the riverbank. Previously, the bridge piers had no flood-protection features and were vulnerable to soil erosion around the bridge’s foundation – a phenomenon known as “scour.” The piers, which now extend roughly 40 feet into the riverbed, provide better protection, stability and sustainability, especially during floods.
Now, the bridge is fully equipped to handle a 30,000-cubic-feet-per-second release of water from Prado Dam.
The work required a temporary diversion of the Santa Ana River and the use of special excavation equipment and procedures that would keep from interrupting active railway operations and avoid compromising the integrity of the bridge’s diaphragm walls.
The design was a product of the Corps’ Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and, due to a particularly low overhead clearance on a project with such intricate requirements, incorporated the use of a specialized type of hydromill trench-cutting machine from Germany – only one of two like it in the world.
“It’s been an incredible team effort here to get this particular project done,” Owen said.
“The completion of this construction not only showcases the marvels of complex engineering,” Owen added, “but it also symbolizes the dedication and the commitment to providing flood-risk protection to the nation here today and for many generations to come.”