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Work crews and volunteers began removing tree branches, shrubs, garbage, and old shopping carts, among other debris, from the riverbed underneath the Robinson Bridge just east of Lompoc over the weekend in an effort to clean the area and extend the life of the embattled roadway.

The stretch of Highway 246 from 12th Street to Sweeney Road, which includes the Robinson Bridge, will be fully closed from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day through Friday as the work continues. Motorists traveling in each direction are advised to detour using Highway 1, or North H Street, to Purisima Road to connect back to Highway 246.

The full closure is necessary, according to Caltrans, so that a crane can be parked on the highway to assist with the debris removal.

Jim Shivers, a public information officer for Caltrans District 5, said the garbage and other items around the base of the bridge needed to be removed “so that water does not gather within this debris and essentially pool or remain as standing water during the upcoming winter storm season.”

“The standing water is not good for the supports of these columns,” he said.

The work is being performed by local crews, including city of Lompoc sanitation workers and other local volunteers. Planting a Seed, a nonprofit that advocates on behalf of homeless people, led much of the effort as part of the Make A Difference Day activities around the city on Saturday.

The Planting a Seed volunteers helped displaced homeless residents and spent much of the day removing the debris.

Several tons of items had been removed as of Monday. Many of the discarded items are believed to have been left by area homeless encampments, several of which are located in the riverbed.

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Among the items removed were dozens of shopping carts. Many of the carts were so damaged, according to workers on the scene, that representatives of the stores that owned the carts asked that they be junked rather than returned.

The city developed and eventually passed a shopping cart ordinance last year in an attempt to cut down on cart theft from stores.

The Robinson Bridge has also been at the center of debate in the community for many years. People have complained about its lack of a pedestrian or bike path, which some have argued is essential since the bridge serves as the actual link between the city and the area’s largest homeless shelter.

Replacement of the bridge was included in the list of projects to be partially funded by Measure A, which was approved by voters in 2008. That work, however, isn’t expected to begin until 2034 at the soonest.

The current debris removal project is being performed by the Caltrans Maintenance Team out of Buellton and is being funded through the Caltrans District 5 maintenance budget, according to Shivers.

Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.