AUBURN, Calif. (KTXL) — On Labor Day 1973, the Foresthill Bridge opened to the public. At an astounding height of 730 feet, it was the second-highest bridge in the world at the time and the highest in the state of California.
The bridge outside of Auburn still holds the record as the state’s highest bridge by deck height and is the third-highest bridge in the country, according to National Geographic.
The bridge towers over Sacramento’s 423-ft. Wells Fargo Center, the tallest building in the city, and provides some of the most breathtaking views of the foothills and the Sierra Nevada.
The Foresthill Bridge spans 2,428 feet across a canyon carved by the North Fork of the American River. It cost the Bureau of Reclamation $13 million to build, the equivalent of $86,747,477 if paid for today.
However, the bridge was made in preparation for an even bigger project that never came to be: the Auburn Dam and subsequent Auburn Lake.
Just a few hundred feet south of where the Auburn Whitewater Park is today, the dam was planned to be more than 600 feet high and would have filled the canyon where the Foresthill Bridge is with water.
In 1964, Congress approved the construction of the Auburn Folsom South-Unit and the construction of a 685-foot-high double curve dam.
The project was estimated to take about eight years and would have provided better flood protection for the lower area of the Sacramento Region, as well as greater water supply, power generation and recreation opportunities.
Construction began in 1975, but an earthquake in Oroville caused doubt in the mind of builders about the seismic stability of the project and they halted construction.
In 1986, the need for improved flood protection was made clear when, during the month of February, Folsom Dam had to release a record amount of water due to recent storms. If storms had continued, it could have meant major levee failure downstream.
The Army Corps of Engineers reported in March 1987 that Folsom Dam held less water than anticipated and the only way to provide the holding volume needed was to build Auburn Reservoir.
In July 1987, the Bureau of Reclamation presented alternative sizes for the reservoir, ranging from a 315,000 acre-foot single-purpose flood control reservoir to the original 2,300,000 acre-feet multi-purpose proposal, with costs ranging from $240 million to $1.1 billion.
The project still did not see any movement due to seismic and geological concerns. The estimated cost for the project today could be at least $6 billion.
Today, the Auburn State Recreation Area covers the area that would be underwater if the dam had been built.
In 2002, the bridge and the canyon below it were featured in the film “xXx” staring Vin Diesel as Xander Cage, who launches a stolen Chevy Corvette off of the bridge and parachutes to the canyon below where his accomplices are awaiting him.
The bridge saw a nearly $60 million restoration in 2010 that included the bridge being repainted and improving earthquake protection. Golden State Bridge Inc. from Martinez oversaw the three-year project. In the restoration, the pedestrian railing was raised from 4 feet to 6.5 feet.