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Lions to be saved from old bridge
101-year-old bridge to be replaced
Concrete lions have stood sentinel at both ends of the Seventh Street Bridge since 1916. When the bridge comes down, the lions will find a new perch at a pedestrian plaza at the north end of the bridge. Some may be preserved elsewhere. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

The four concrete lions that have been guarding both the northern and southern ends of the historic Seventh Street Bridge between Ceres and Modesto may continue long past the structure, which is being planned for replacement.

The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors recently agreed with an environmental study and county staff recommendation to have the 101-year-old structure removed and replaced by a four-lane structure. The vote was cast on May 23. The action followed a similar plan adopted by the Modesto City Council in February.

Consulting firm CH2M Hill determined that retrofitting the 1916 bridge is not feasible and the cheapest option is to demolish and rebuild it. Because county officials are depending on federal transportation funds through Caltrans for the project - and they don't want to pay for an expensive project - supervisors decided on demolition.

County officials had been hopeful to replace the structure with a tied-arch bridge but the option was tossed out because it would have run up the bill by $10 million and Uncle Sam wasn't paying. The state and federal government are covering 88 percent of the cost of the project, estimated to be $50 million.

The structure, which stretches 1,100 feet long over the Tuolumne River, may be deemed safe but is unable to support heavy trucks.

Once construction begins in 2020 there will be no vehicular access across the river at that crossing for two years but a temporarily bridge structure would be set up for foot traffic. Part of the project includes interchange improvements at Highway 99 and Crows Landing Road and at Tuolumne Boulevard. To accomplish that, the joint city-county project will need additional rights-of-way and replacement of utilities.

Because the concrete lions that guard the bridge are in weathered state, they likely would not be an aesthetic addition to the new bridge. Two concrete lions may be relocated to a plaza where the bridge will connect to the Tuolumne Regional Park north of the river. The plaza will also include an obelisk and bronze plaques. The other two would likely find another home, said, Dave Leamon, deputy public works director for Stanislaus County.

There is talk of raising private funds to have Oakdale artist Betty Saletta create four lions made of bronze as a replacement on the new bridge to keep the historical tradition alive. She has told officials the cost could be $240,000 and could be raised by selling replicas of the lions she will create.