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City officials announce design finalists for 6th Street Bridge project

By Hayley Fox
Published: Thursday, September 13, 2012, at 11:00AM
Eric Richardson/blogdowntown

The 6th Street Bridge will be demolished and an entirely new design erected in its place.

City officials announced the three final design firms competing for the 6th Street Bridge project (aka the 6th Street Viaduct) on Wednesday night. The historic bridge crosses the L.A. river from Downtown to Boyle Heights, and must be dismantled and replaced because of safety concerns.

The 3,500-foot span is often featured in movies and commercials -- last year alone, more than 100 productions where shot on and under the structure, according to a cursory review of permits from the year. But soon, the famous bridge will be on hiatus from show biz because of its classification as the "most at-risk bridge in the city to collapse during a major earthquake," according to Councilman José Huizar's office.

"Once we knew we could not save the original bridge, my next concern was making sure whatever we replaced it with was as iconic as the first -- honoring the history of the bridge while embracing its future potential," said Huizar in a statement.

Over the past 80 years, the viaduct, built in 1933, has been deteriorating because of a chemical reaction called Alkali Silica Reaction -- concrete "cancer" -- which causes the structure to crumble from the inside. While some community members hoped to preserve the historic bridge, project engineers said that retrofitting it wouldn't be enough to save its structural integrity.

In-depth studies on the viaduct began about six years ago, and in November 2011, the L.A. City Council voted 10-1 to demolish and rebuild it. At last year's vote, architect Christopher Martin -- whose grandfather helped design City Hall -- said the council should consider time, money and design when planning for the new bridge.

"I see no point in trying to replicate old architectural ideas in this character," he said last year. "You've got other bridges there that are wonderful examples."

Huizar, along with the L.A. Bureau of Engineering, created an International Design Competition to solicit concepts for the new span. This decision was a "game changer" for the bridge's future, said the councilman, who originally protested the span's demolition and supported its preservation or replication.

Now, the nine design proposals have been whittled down to three firms; these finalists were announced last night as being HNTB, AECOM and Parsons Brinckerhoff.

"I think they are all great proposals that capture the need to create an iconic bridge that will replace, unfortunately, another iconic bridge," said Huizar.

He described all of the possible bridges as successfully integrating Boyle Heights and the Arts District into their design, and considering not only the space above them but the area below them -- which Huizar hopes to use to "revitalize the river" and do some "economic development."

All three spans also cater to multiple modes of transportation, said the councilman, taking into consideration pedestrians and cyclists in addition to motorists.

"We also want this bridge to be a destination point," said Huizar, adding that it should serve as more than a connector between two points.

There will be at least three more public meetings to discuss the $401 million bridge project before a final design is selected. The Bureau of Engineering along with the Design Aesthetic Advisory Committee and others will help make the final decision, which should be announced in early October.

Construction is expected to begin in 2015 with an expected opening date of 2018.

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