Mission Road and Ostrich Creek Bridge - A Fair Exchange?

When I left home for a late afternoon meeting in Fallbrook last week, I found traffic on South Mission Road backed up from Winter Haven south to Big Oak Ranch Road. A driver was kind enough to let me in line, however. All the white and yellow lane lines on Mission had been painted over with black paint. County workers wearing yellow caution coats were everywhere, directing traffic and setting up temporary barricades. At the high school, all three traffic lights were flashing red, so every car had to stop at each one. In spite of all that, I finally made it to East Mission Road to meet Mauricio Villareal and Marco Cruz, my cochairmen on the Teen Center committee.

It was dark by the time I made my way home after our Youth Task Force meeting, and there was a big yellow directional arrow at Mission and RockyCrest, warning of narrowed lanes. The road was already restriped down almost to the high school. Gone were right and left turn lanes, and when I neared my left turn just beyond the Last Straw feed store, there were headlights down to the corner. When I was finally able to see my street sign, someone graciously let me through the line of cars, and I was almost home. It was quite an adventure.

The following day I could see activity across Mission Road, where Overland Trail exits onto Mission. The level lot located there was created when the County removed part of the hillside forty years ago. (At that time, the widening project required filling parts of Ostrich Creek in order to bypass the little two lane bridge which is still there, across from the Last Straw.) On that lot, during the previous week, a chain link fence had been put up and mobile offices moved in. Today it was an operating construction yard. There were trucks and supplies, and heavy equipment was parked outside the fence. I passed by the construction yard and the new CALTRANS sign, and found that the traffic lights by the high school were working, so traffic moved steadily. Now concrete barriers lined the road in several places, helping to channel traffic and protect future workers who would be putting the electric wires underground.

Seeing the barriers made me wish for some kind of protection for the little bridge over Ostrich Creek, back at the County's construction yard. It seemed so vulnerable. One vehicle out of control, or a mistake with a piece of heavy equipment could do great damage to our historic bridge. It is in the Mission Road right of way and is owned by the County (Department of Public Works), whose job it is to maintain and upgrade our roads. The Fallbrook Historical Society was concerned that the bridge might be declared surplus and demolished in some future highway project. So we researched its history, and applied to the County to have it protected. The Board of Supervisors designated it a County Historic Site in 1992 (County Landmark #18, protected under Sections 5700 - 5747 of the Zoning Ordinance). The Department of Public Works then put concrete barriers at each end of the bridge, so it could no longer be used by vehicular traffic.

The bridge over Ostrich Creek is part of Fallbrook's transportation history. It was constructed by the State in the early '20's, after the legislature passed a bill to establish the "Mission Trail" highway between San Diego and Riverside. (We have a copy of the plans for the bridge, drawn by Chief Engineer, R.M.Morton.) In the next decade, the road and bridge became part of the national highway system, called U.S.395. It served as a military highway during World War II, when many Marine truck convoys carried ammunition from Fallbrook's Naval Ammunition Depot to ships in San Diego.

Hoping to make the bridge more accessible to the public, the Fallbrook Land Conservancy applied for funds to acquire the bridge and the land where the construction yard is today. Their plan was to replant the oak trees which were there originally, and provide parking, picnic areas, and walkways for people who stopped to see the bridge, which has an outstanding view of Ostrich Creek. The Conservancy also proposed to incorporate into the site the two huge boulders containing evidence of Luiseño Indian occupation of the area. All the elements of the site were to be described and interpreted in a kiosk, which would also provide visitors' information about Fallbrook. The project had the support of the County Historic Site Board, as well as Fallbrook planning and design groups and utility districts. The local park board allocated more than $25,000 to the project if it were funded by CALTRANS. Sadly, CALTRANS did not fund it.

Now my hope is that our historic bridge will survive the Mission Road widening. I will be watching out for it on trips to town during the next two years. Many of us are directly affected by the traffic and construction, and all are of us are affected by the loss of mature trees and the encroachment into Los Jilgueros Preserve. When the Mission Road project is finished, and the construction yard is dismantled, maybe CALTRANS and the County will fund the Ostrich Creek Park as a present to the people of Fallbrook for their patience and understanding.

(The Ostrich Creek Bridge is also an element in the story of the Village Square in Fallbrook. If you are interested in learning more about the bridge, you can visit the History Museum any Thursday afternoon from 1 to 6, at 260 RockyCrest Road, 723-4125.)

Copyright © 1998 by Fallbrook Historical Society
Permission is freely granted to reproduce any or all of this page as long as credit is given to the Fallbrook Historical Society at this source:
Comments and feedback: Elizabeth Yamaguchi
Last update: 25 December 1998.