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After Five Years of Study, Council Votes to Demolish 6th Street Viaduct

By Eric Richardson
Published: Friday, November 18, 2011, at 08:13AM
6th Street Viaduct Eric Richardson / blogdowntown

The 6th Street Viaduct is one of a dozen historic bridges that cross the L.A. River as it passes through Downtown. The dual-arch structure is the longest of the group, and has been used in countless television shows and films.

After almost five years of study and countless community meetings, the fate of the historic 6th Street Viaduct goes to the City Council this morning. The body must vote on environmental documents that call for the demolition of the 1933 monument and its replacement, most likely with a span of modern design.

[Update (3:30pm): The Council did vote today to approve the environmental documents and move the project forward. The vote was 10-1, with only Councilman Tom LaBonge voting no: "Mr. Huizar," he told the councilmember from the 14th district, "I love you, but I love the 6th Street Bridge more." The vote makes a modern replacement the city's preferred design alternative.]

The $401 million project is necessary because the bridge has concrete "cancer," a condition known as Alkali-Silica Reaction (ASR) that causes the concrete to crumble from the inside, steadily reducing the chances that the structure would survive a major earthquake.

Council is almost certain to approve the report. The federal government—which is providing $365.5 million of the project budget—has asked to get the approved document by December 1.

In the week leading up to the Council vote, the funding and design of the bridge went before the Budget and Finance committee and the Public Works committee.

FEDERAL FUNDING FEARS: In both meetings, Councilmembers Bernard Parks and Mitch Englander expressed concerns that the city might outlay funds on the project before reimbursement by the federal government was absolutely guaranteed. Budget and Finance passed the Bureau of Public Works' funding plan, which uses $100 million in city bond financing for cash flow, but asked that the department come back to Council with assurances before signing any construction contract.

RIVER FRIENDS LIKE BIKES: Friends of the LA River spoke at Wednesday's meeting to express their support for replacement and the proposed modern design because it removes the bridge piers next to the river, increasing the likelihood that a bike path could be continued along the river through Downtown. Currently, paths run along the waterway both north and south of the central city.

HISTORIC ARCHITECT SAYS MOVE FORWARD: Christopher Martin of AC Martin Partners has a strong connection to historic Downtown structures. His grandfather was one of three architects who designed City Hall, and Martin led the building's historic renovation in the 1990s. He's currently in charge of renovations for the nearby Hall of Justice.

Even so, he believes it is time to move on at 6th Street. "I see no point in trying to replicate old architectural ideas in this character," he said on Wednesday. "You've got other bridges there that are wonderful examples."

He called for a new design that is "contextually compatible" but not limited by the 1933 span's design, and urged Council to balance time, money and design in planning the project. "I think you would really being going down the wrong track if you honor just design," he said.

NEW OLD BRIDGE == $$$: To recreate the original span but account for the widening needed for bike lanes and sidewalks would cost approximately $100 million more than a modern structure, according to Bureau of Public Works' numbers. The city's Cultural Heritage Commission continues to push for a hybrid design that would mostly recreate the structure, but city staff said this week that adding that option would likely require recirculating the environmental report, delaying the work and jeopardizing the federal funding.

BELOW THE BRIDGE: Left in limbo through this whole process are business owners like Mark Spilo of Spilo Worldwide. The beauty products company has been located at 6th and Santa Fe in the bridge's shadow for nearly 80 years. The proposed alignment of the replacement bridge would require that the city take Spilo's property, and that has him worried that he may not be able to find replacement space for his 85 employees.

"If we were forced to relocate it would necessarily be to another city," he told the Public Works committee. "The fact is, there are no plausible alternative sites for a facility like ours in the Los Angeles industrial zone."


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