Bixby Creek Bridge

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Bixby Creek Bridge
Bixby Creek Bridge, California, USA - May 2013.jpg
Bixby Creek Bridge from its northern end
Coordinates 36°22′17″N 121°54′07″W / 36.37139°N 121.90194°W / 36.37139; -121.90194 (Bixby Creek Bridge)
BIXBY CREEK BRIDGE Latitude and Longitude:

36°22′17″N 121°54′07″W / 36.37139°N 121.90194°W / 36.37139; -121.90194 (Bixby Creek Bridge)
Carries SR 1
Crosses Bixby Creek
Locale Big Sur
Monterey County
Owner State of California
Maintained by California Department of Transportation
Design reinforced concrete open- spandrel arch bridge
Total length 714 feet (218 m) [1]
Width 24 feet (7 m)
Height 280 feet (85 m)
Longest span 360 feet (110 m) [1]
Clearance below 260 feet (79 m) [1]
Construction start August 24, 1931
Construction end October 15, 1932
Opened November 27, 1932
Daily traffic 4,500 [2]
Bixby Creek Bridge is located in California
Bixby Creek Bridge
Bixby Creek Bridge
Location in California

Bixby Creek Bridge, also known as Bixby Bridge, on the Big Sur coast of California, is one of the most photographed bridges in California due to its aesthetic design, "graceful architecture and magnificent setting". [3] [4] It is a reinforced concrete open- spandrel arch bridge. The bridge is 120 miles (190 km) south of San Francisco and 13 miles (21 km) south of Carmel in Monterey County along State Route 1.

Prior to the opening of the bridge in 1932, residents of the Big Sur area were virtually cut off during winter due to the often impassable Old Coast Road that led 11 miles (18 km) inland. At its completion, the bridge was built under budget for $199,861 (equivalent to $3.5 million in 2016) and at 360 feet (110 m) [1] was the longest concrete arch span on the California State Highway System. It is one of the tallest single-span concrete bridges in the world. [5]

The land north and south of the bridge was privately owned until 1988 and 2001. A logging company obtained approval to harvest Redwood on the former Bixby Ranch to the north in 1986, and in 2000 a developer obtained approval to subdivide the former Brazil Ranch to the south. Local residents and conservationists fought their plans and both pieces of land were eventually acquired by local and federal government agencies. After a $20 million seismic retrofit completed in 1996, the bridge remained functionally obsolete. Its 24 feet (7.3 m) width does not meet modern standards requiring bridges to be 32 feet (9.8 m) wide.


The land was historically occupied by the native Esselen people who visited the coast seasonally to harvest shellfish along the coast and fish offshore. When the Spanish established the California mission system, the native people were virtually exterminated. [6]:114 Governor Juan Alvarado granted the land from present day Carmel south to Palo Colorado Canyon, two miles north of Bixby Creek, to Marcelino Escobar in 1839 as part of the Rancho San Jose y Sur Chiquito. The land was later acquired by José Castro. He built a trail from Monterey to Palo Colorado Canyon as early as 1853, when he filed a map of his purchase. [7] [8]

Originally Mill Creek

Bixby Creek is named after pioneering businessman Charles Henry Bixby. Originally from Livingston County, New York, he arrived in California in 1852 and remained for five years. He returned east before coming back to California. After some success raising cattle in Sonoma County, he obtained a patent on April 10, 1889 for 160 acres south of Bixby Creek, [9] and later bought additional tracts of land on the north side of the creek, between it and Palo Colorado Canyon. He built a sawmill on the creek, which for many years was known as Mill Creek. He harvested timber and turned it into shakes, shingles, railroad ties, and trench posts. He also harvested the bark of the Tanbark Oak which was used for tanning cow hides. Bixby discovered lime deposits on Long Ridge above Mill Creek. He used mules to haul the lime to the coast on wooden sleds. He had kilns built and sold the fired lime as use in mortar and other building materials. [4]

He tried to persuade the county to build a road to Bixby Creek, but they refused, replying that "no one would want to live there." It was impossible to build a wharf from the cliffs that dropped into the ocean, and he instead built a hoist that could be used to ferry goods to and from ships anchored slightly offshore. [10] [11] In 1870, Bixby and his father hired men to improve the track and constructed the first wagon road including 23 bridges from the Carmel Mission to Bixby Creek. [12]

Sometime later Bixby partnered with William B. Post and extended what became known as the Old Coast Road south to his ranch. At Bixby Creek, the road was necessarily built 11 miles (18 km) inland to circumvent the deep canyon. It also went inland to circumvent the Little Sur River. It then led to the Post Ranch on the Rancho El Sur near present-day Andrew Molera State Park. [11] [8]:4–2 The 30-mile (48 km) trip from Carmel could take three days by wagon or stagecoach. [13]:24 The single-lane road was closed in winter when it became impassable. Coast residents would occasionally receive supplies via a hazardous landing by boat from Monterey or San Francisco. [8]:4–4

Bixby Landing in 1911 was used to transport supplies and products to and from ships off shore.

In 1906, after he exhausted the supply of commercial timber, Bixby sold the land to the Monterey Lime Company. Lime was in great demand to help re-build San Francisco following the 1906 earthquake. That company built a 3 miles (4.8 km) aerial tram to haul limestone from Long Ridge to Bixby Landing. A small group of homes grew up around the original Bixby Homestead. The kilns operated for four years until high operating costs closed the kilns in 1910. The tram was used for a while longer to off and on-load supplies for the community from schooners. [14]

Brazil Ranch

The Brazil Ranch on Serra Hill south of Bixby Creek on the Big Sur coast circa 1880s or 1890s.

The former Brazil Ranch is located on Serra Hill immediately south of Bixby Creek and the Bixby Creek Bridge, making it one of the most photographed spots on the Big Sur coast. Job Heath obtained a land patent on May 20, 1884 and he and his wife Serena Waters homesteaded the ranch. [15] Antonio Brazil married Mary Pfeiffer and they bought Heath's property. [16]

The Brazil family operated the 1,255 acres (508 ha) ranch for nearly a century. In 1977, Tony and Margaret Brazil sold the ranch to Allen Funt, creator of the television show Candid Camera. Funt raised quarter horses and cattle on it.

Proposed development

In 1986 the land formerly owned by Bixby was held by Humboldt County-based Philo Lumber Company. They obtained a state permit to log over a million board feet of redwood. The residents of Palo Colorado Canyon were intensely opposed to the plan, but it was only derailed by the savings and loan crisis. The property was seized by federal financial regulators and was later sold to the Big Sur Land Trust, which then sold it to the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District in 1988. The district joined it with three adjacent properties to form the Mill Creek Redwood Preserve. [14]

After Funt died in 1999, the former Brazil Ranch land was purchased in 2000 by Woodside Partners, who discovered nine original land patents on the land. These significantly increased the value of the land, allowing them to obtain county permission to subdivide the land into nine parcels for development. Local community leaders and activists joined together to prevent subdivision and development of the land. In 2001, the Trust for Public Land bought the property. On September 24, 2002, they and the U.S. Forest Service announced that the land had been added to the Los Padres National Forest. [17] The unmarked entrance is located 0.1 miles (0.16 km) south of the Bixby Creek Bridge. [18] [12]

Trail and road access

To access the Mill Creek Redwood Preserve, a 2.7 miles (4.3 km) trail was built by hand over ten years from Palo Colorado Road to an overlook. To limit traffic on narrow Palo Colorado Road, access is limited to day use and only six permits per day are available. Visitors must obtain a permit in advance from the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District to visit the preserve. The trail head is located 6 miles (9.7 km) inland on Palo Colorado Road. [14] [11] The Old Coast Road that the bridge replaced remains open to vehicles, weather permitting. The Old Coast Road from the north side of Bixby Creek is 11 miles (18 km) long, cutting inland across the Little Sur River, and ends near the northern border of Andrew Molera State Park, 8.3 miles (13.4 km) to the south.


The state first began building Route 56, or the Carmel–San Simeon Highway, in 1919. A number of bridges needed to be constructed, the largest among them across Bixby Creek. [10]

Bridge location

Bixby Creek Bridge under construction, 1932

State engineers considered two alternatives to crossing the creek, an inland route and a smaller bridge, or a coastal location and a larger bridge. The inland route necessitated an 890-foot (270 m) tunnel cutting though the Santa Lucia Mountains to a 250-foot (76 m) bridge upstream. [10] The engineers selected the coast route, because it was safer, more scenic, and least affected the environment.

California state highway engineer C. H. Purcell and bridge engineer and designer F. W. Panhorst considered whether to build a steel or concrete span. A steel bridge would cost more to build and maintain, as the sea air would require expensive ongoing maintenance and painting. A steel bridge was also less in keeping with the natural environment. Using concrete reduced material costs and allowed more of the total cost to be paid to workers, which was a positive aspect of the design during the Depression. [3] They chose concrete in part because it would not only reduce both construction and maintenance costs but would also echo the color and composition of the natural rock cliff formations in the area. [19]

The state awarded a contract for $203,334 to the lower bidder, Ward Engineering Company of San Francisco, on August 13, 1931. [19] Construction began on August 24, 1931. [19]

Design and materials

Bixby Creek Bridge from the northeast

Over 300,000 board feet (700 m3) of Douglas fir timber, used to build a 250-foot (76 m) high falsework to support the arch during construction, was transported from the railroad terminal in Monterey over the narrow, one-way road to the bridge site. The falsework, built by crews led by E. C. Panton, the general superintendent, and I. O. Jahlstrom, resident engineer of Ward Engineering Co., was difficult to raise, because it was constantly exposed to high winds. Some of the falsework timbers were 10 by 10 inches (250 mm × 250 mm). [20] It took two months to construct the falsework alone. When high waves threatened the falsework foundation, construction was halted for a short time until winter storms abated. [10]

The crews excavated 4,700 cubic yards (3,600 m3) of earth and rock. [21] Eight hundred twenty-five trucks brought in 600,000 pounds of reinforcing steel. [21] Sand and gravel were supplied from a plant in Big Sur.

Construction required 45,000 sacks or 6,600 cubic yards (5,000 m3) of cement [21] which was transported from Davenport, near Santa Cruz, and from San Andreas. [10] Crews began placing concrete on November 27. The concrete was transported across the canyon on platforms using slings suspended from a cable 300 feet (91 m) above the creek. [22]

The bridge was completed on October 15, 1932, [23] although the highway was not finished for another five years. At its completion, the bridge cost $199,861 and, at 360 feet (110 m), was the longest concrete arch span on the California State Highway System. [19] The bridge was necessary to complete the two-lane road which opened in 1937 after 18 years of construction. [24]

Rainbow Bridge

After the bridge was completed, it was at times known as the Rainbow Bridge, due to the presence of the Rainbow Lodge resort on the creek upstream from the bridge. It was operated by former Army Captain Howard Sharpe and his wife, Frida. After timber harvesting was no longer profitable, Sharpe bought the Bixby Creek Canyon ranch in 1919. He built a dirt road from the lodge up the canyon to Bixby Landing and another road down to the beach at the mouth of Bixby Creek. He sold part of his land to the state as part of the bridge right-of-way in 1930. [10]

Seismic retrofitting

Aerial view of Bixby Creek Bridge and coastline, 1965

The bridge was retrofitted beginning in 1996 with an analysis by bridge engineering company Buckland & Taylor as part of the Caltrans Phase II seismic retrofit program. [25] In their detailed evaluation of the bridge's seismic vulnerabilities, they were challenged to find a solution that met several difficult issues, including severe load factors, extremely limited physical access, maintaining the appearance of the existing historical structure, and a requirement by the State of California that at least one lane of the bridge remain open at all times. The crux of the design was the longitudinal post-tensioning of the entire bridge deck from end to end. [26]

The $20 million seismic retrofit began in May 1998. The cost of the retrofit was considerably increased by the requirement to preserve the historical look of the bridge. [3] Prime contractor Vahani Construction of San Francisco was assisted by Faye Bernstein & Associates and Waldron Engineering. To reinforce the abutments supporting the bridge deck at either end, engineers put in place a floating slab, continuous with the deck, keyed into a massive pile cap with six 72-inch (1,800 mm) diameter cast-in-drilled-hole (CIDH) piles behind each abutment. To support the towers, engineers designed a full height structural wall that was integrated within each of the two existing towers. During the retrofit, they removed the top portion of the towers, including the roadway, and replaced them with a prestressed diaphragm that anchors the full height of the vertical tower. The diaphragm simultaneously distributes the vertical prestressing forces uniformly to the new concrete structural wall and the existing tower's concrete. [27]

The deck, which curves from one end to the other, was reinforced by adding heavily confined edge beams encasing high strength steel along the inside face of the exterior longitudinal girders underneath. These rods extended from one end of the roadway to the other. The reinforced edge beams ensure continuity across the many expansion joints and help distribute the bending strains due to lateral flexure. [27] In addition to the reinforced edge beam, four large prestressing tendons were installed the length of the bridge along the underside of the deck slab. These tendons are stressed to pre-compress the concrete deck to approximately 800 psi and also serve as flexural reinforcement along with the high strength rods. Finally, engineers found a way to reinforce the bent columns attached to the arch, which possess complex and varying geometric challenges. They encased the bent columns with thin, lightweight, composite carbon fiber jackets that provide the necessary degree of confinement to ensure ductile response and also mimic the original design. [27]

In addition to the analyses performed by Buckland and Taylor, Caltrans commissioned Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to perform an independent study of the structure both with and without the proposed retrofit measures in place. The final report, which was published in June 1999, concludes that the retrofit appears to be appropriate even for earthquake ground motions including near-field displacement pulses, which were not considered in the original analyses. [28]

As a result of the retrofit, the continuous, stiffened deck has four lateral reaction points: two new massive abutments anchored by large-diameter, cast-in-drilled-hole piles. The two towers are strengthened and anchored to rock with tie-down anchors within the towers. The arch ribs are laterally supported at their crowns by new shear keys that link them to the reinforced deck. [26] [29] The expensive retrofit, completed in November 2000, still left the bridge officially classified as "functionally obsolete" because at 24 feet (7.3 m) in width, the bridge is less than the 32 feet (9.8 m) standard required of newly built bridges. [3]


The bridge is 714 feet (218 m) in total length, 24 feet (7.3 m) wide, with 260 feet (79 m) of clearance below, and has a main span of 360 feet (110 m), which places 50% of the total roadbed above the arch. [1] The arch ribs are five feet thick at the deck and nine feet thick at the springing line, where they join the towers at their base. The arches are four and one-half feet wide. [30] The bridge was designed to support more than six times its intended load. [19]

The two large, vertical buttresses or supporting pillars on either side of the arch, while aesthetically pleasing, are functionally unnecessary. Engineers of later arch bridges such as the Frederick W. Panhorst Bridge omitted them from the design. [31] The Rocky Creek Bridge and the Malpaso Creek Bridge to the north are also open-spandrel arch bridges built of reinforced concrete.

In popular culture

The bridge is "one of the most photographed features on the West Coast" [32] due to its pleasing aesthetic design [3] and because of its location along the scenic Central Coast of California. "It is arguably the most photographed stretch of the entire Big Sur Coast, on postcards, TV ads, everywhere," according to Debra Geiler, project manager for the Trust for Public Land. "It's the gateway to Big Sur and the interior has never been logged. The land is pristine." Zad Leavy, former executive director of the Big Sur Land Trust, described the land as "...the most spectacular meeting of ocean and land in the entire United States." [33]

Express Mail stamp

2010 U.S. Postal Service Express Mail stamp

The bridge was commemorated in an Express mail stamp issued on February 3, 2010. The United States Postal Service introduced a $18.30 definitive stamp designed by Carl T. Herrman of North Las Vegas, Nevada. The stamp features a color digital illustration of Bixby Creek Bridge in California, by Dan Cosgrove of Clarendon Hills, Illinois. [34]

BASE jumping deaths

On January 20, 2016, two base jumpers died when they landed near the surf and drowned. Officials only figured out the two were missing on January 23 after their rental car was found abandoned near the bridge. Video recovered from a helmet cam worn by one of the victims revealed how they died. Mary Catherine Connell landed safely on the small beach but was overwhelmed by waves. BASE jumping instructor Rami Kajala saw her overtaken by waves and unsuccessfully attempted to rescue her. [35] Kajala's body was found more than two weeks later. [36] Connell's body was never recovered. [37]

View of the Pacific Ocean from Bixby Creek Bridge


Bixby ... Creek ... Bridge ...



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