There have been several bridges previously located at this site. In 1874 a covered bridge was constructed. It was one of three major river crossings over the SanLorenzo River. The 800-foot structure was built at a cost of approximately $15,000. The picturesque covered bridge was styled after "Smith Patent Truss Bridge." The covered portion of the bridge extended 530 feet, making it one of the State's longest covered bridges. In 1890 a trestle was added for a horse car line to the east side,which was later converted to a trolley line. A concrete and steel girder bridge eventually replaced the covered bridge in 1921. The bridge was then widened to four lanes in 1967 when a four-span concrete I-girder bridge was constructed on the north side. In January 1982, severe floods caused the collapse of the eastbound lanes of the Soquel Avenue Bridge into the river, taking out all the telephone lines between the east and west side of Santa Cruz. The damaged southern portion of the Soquel Avenue Bridge was repaired with a replacement I-girder span in 1984.
On May 6, 1997, the City Council awarded the construction contract for the Soquel Avenue Bridge Replacement Project to R.G.W. Construction, Inc. of Fremont. Boyle Engineering Corporation of Sacramento designed the new bridge. The San Jose office of Parsons Brinckerhoff Construction Services provided construction management services. All three firms were also involved with the Water Street Bridge Rehabilitation Project that was completed in the spring of 1997.
The total cost of the Soquel Avenue Bridge Replacement Project was approximately $11 million. Construction work started in May 1997 and was completed in January 1999. The project was constructed in three stages to accommodate river access restrictions, major telephone relocation and traffic concerns. The northern portion of the bridge was removed and replaced in the first stage. During the second stage, all of the telephone facilities were relocated from the southern portion of the bridge to the new northern portion of the bridge. The telephone relocation work was done during the winter season when river access was restricted by a Department of Fish and Game permit. The final stage involved removal and replacement of the remaining southern portion of the bridge.
Funding for the project was provided through the Federal Highway Administration Bridge Rehabilitation and Replacement (HBRR) program. The Federal Highway Administration provided 80 percent of the eligible construction costs. The City of Santa Cruz provided approximately $2.2 million in local matching funds from the Storm Water Fund. The new Soquel Avenue Bridge is the same width and length as the former bridge. The new bridge was constructed over three feet higher and with fewer support piers in the river in order to provide increased flood capacity. New decorative street lights and pedestrian overlooks were installed on both sides of the bridge. The bridge includes a total of four travel lanes as well as bike lanes, sidewalks and railings, levee path undercrossing, and gabion bank protection. Two bronze plaques will be mounted on the new bridge, one to commemorate the completion of the new bridge and a second, historic one to commemorate the 1874 covered bridge.
The City of Santa Cruz was required to make the flood improvements to the Water Street Bridge and the Soquel Avenue Bridge as part of the Army Corps of Engineers San Lorenzo Flood Control Project. The completion of the two bridge projects makes way for the planned construction of the San Lorenzo Flood Control Project that is anticipated to start later this year.