Long a local landmark and informal greeter for Holtville, the former railroad trestle over the Alamo River was damaged in a fire more than 10 years ago.
The city hopes to get more funding to restore it as part of a walking trail. | Corissa Ibarra photo
Built around 1910 near
the end of the Holton Interurban Railway connecting El Centro to Holtville, the
270-foot Alamo River trestle has long been the signal travelers are about to take the sweeping
curve of Highway 115 into this tucked-away community.
The trestle looks worse
for wear these days, heavily blackened with large timbers left charred from an
accidental fire that spread along the river bottom more than a decade ago.
With the former rail line
sold off in pieces by its owner, Holtville City Manager Nick Wells said the
city bought the trestle in 2007 or 2008, shortly before the fire. Officials
would like to see the bridge repaired and incorporated into the Pete Mellinger
Alamo River Trail. It runs beneath the trestle and connects to Palm Avenue on one
side and Earl Walker County Park on the other.
There is no urgency for repairs
other than it being one of many city council priorities. The city holds about
$730,000 in settlement money it intends to use for the project, Wells said during a Nov. 14
That settlement money was
paid to the city by a nearby packing shed owner where some welding sparked the
fire that damaged the trestle. Wells
said the city sued for damages.
Holtville Fire Chief Alex
Silva remembers the fire well. About to enter his 11th year as
chief, Silva has been a firefighter in Holtville for 28 years. The fire ignited
the brush of the river bottom and started heading west, Silva said, before a
sudden change in wind direction took the blaze southeast right into the path of
Silva said that in the
1940s, railroad companies used to cover exposed wooden beams in creosote, a
brown or black oily and highly-flammable substance, to prevent dry rot. Silva
said when the fire hit the creosote-covered timbers of the trestle, “It took
“That was one of my first
fires as fire chief,” Silva said during a Nov. 15 interview. “I used to walk
that trestle bridge as a kid. It just broke my heart when it went up.”
Wells said the city hopes
the trestle is something that will attract those out for a walk.
“We’re trying to get it
repaired to be more presentable, more visibly appealing, to make it nice, but
it’s got that big burn scar,” Wells said. “But it also needs a use.”
Wells said repairing the
bridge comes with a cost, yet he implied the city is never going to get any additional
money for the work unless the repairs lead to another use for the trestle.
Fixing the bridge alone has come with estimates of up to $2 million.
The city manager said the
first estimate came in 2009 or 2010 and the engineering firm mistakenly assumed
it would be work to get a train running across the trestle again, so that
estimate was for $2 million. In 2014, a second estimate involved repairing the
fire damage only, and did not include operational tracks; that was the $1
By somehow incorporating
the Alamo River trestle, also known as the Holton Interurban Railway bridge,
into the design of a pedestrian walking path or feature, the hopes are it will
open the trestle to grant funding. Wells said one plan would be to see the
Mellinger Alamo River Trail fork off and cross the trestle and create a path to
the side of 115/Evan Hewes Highway.
The short-term idea is to
fix the trestle and make it walkable, Wells said. A long-term goal would be to
have a side road from the trestle/bridge lead all the way to the Barbara Worth
Country Club so those in golf carts could take them safely into Holtville.
While creating such a
lengthy trail is a “long-term vision,” Wells said, “We would first need the
conveyance across the Alamo River.”
Finding a grant and
leveraging it to make the bridge/trestle walkable — the secondary function
— would hopefully get the city where it wants to be in fixing the
fire-damaged focal point, Wells said.
He added that if the city
does end up finding a grant, the fire settlement money could be used as
matching funds or contribute to the work in some way. Alone, it will not be
enough to do much of anything.
Wells said he now has the
city’s grant writer looking into options, including general state Parks and
Recreation Department trail grants.
“I sure hope it happens,”
Wells said. “The council has talked about it, but we knew it was not feasible
to fix it (with just $730,000). It has to have a beneficial use … so we could
seek that gap funding.”
Mayor Ginger Ward did not
return repeated phone calls seeking comment for this story.