The Clock Approaches Midnight for the Riverside-Figueroa Bridge

Plans for the Figueroa Landbridge are on life support as the City Council and Mayor allow a flawed estimate from the Bureau of Engineering to scare them away from not demolishing the current Figueroa-Riverside Bridge.

Plans for the Figueroa Landbridge are on life support as the City Council and Mayor allow a flawed estimate from the Bureau of Engineering to scare them away from not demolishing the current Riverside-Figueroa Bridge.

It was just over two years ago that I first heard that the Riverside-Figueroa Bridge over the L.A. River was doomed for demolition to make way for a newer version that would be built right next door. Despite its historic designation, it is the only mixed concrete and steel truss bridge crossing the L.A. River, I was resigned to seeing it go and just quietly said goodbye. The bridge was built in the 1920′s and rebuilt in the 1930′s, and it seemed it was just time for the bridge to go.

The demolition is planned to occur sometime in the Spring of 2014.

This summer, at the 11th hour, a plan to save and better the bridge emerged. Architects at RAC Design Build showed a preliminary design where a public park and bicycle and pedestrian path would be built around one section of the steel span built by the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers in 1939 after a landslide badly damaged the bridge. The full report prepared for free by RAC Design Build can be found here.

Enthusiasm for the plan, which was named the Figueroa Landbridge, grew until a report by the city’s Bureau of Engineering said the design would cost nearly $5 million more than the $43 million set aside in federal funds for the new bridge project.

The City Council refused to set aside $64,000 for a real feasibility study, even after it was revealed that the estimate was inflated for several reasons, not the least of which was the claim that cranes wouldn’t be able to access the river channel even though cranes were doing just that for the construction of the new bridge.

In an article in this week’s Architect News, RAC Design Build architect Kevin Mulachy and principal Rick Cortez are pushing the plan again as time is running out for the City Council to make a move to save the bridge. A petition at Change.org has attracted 367 signers at the time of publication. But so far the petition has made enough noise to attract support from city leaders. Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office, which has made saving and restoring the river a cornerstone of their plans for the city, passed when offered a chance to comment on the bridge plans. Council Member Mitch O’Farrell told Streetsblog they would get back to us yesterday afternoon.

The main stumbling block is the Bureau of Engineering’s high-ball estimate for Figueroa Landbridge, an estimate they concede is probably high, although they’re still sticking to it. Deborah Weintraub, yes the same Deborah Weintraub overseeing the atrocious design plan for the Hyperion Bridge, told the Architect’s Newspaper:

…“we took a very serious look” at RAC’s proposal, and noted that there was no cost manipulation. She said the $4.9 million estimate that the project’s contractor, Flatiron Construction, gave her department was their “first take,” and likely would have changed following a closer look. Any changes to the original plan, she added, would likely not have federal funding, making a change this far into the process more challenging. “The funding implications required close consideration by our policy makers,” she said.  “The cost didn’t justify the benefit.”

I think we’ve already seen what value the Bureau puts in creating public space trying to cross the Los Angeles River so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the “cost didn’t justify the benefit” in their view. However, having learned a lesson that working with the Bureau isn’t the best way to move progressive projects, Mulachy and Cortez are trying to take their case directly to City Hall.

If nobody steps up, the demolition of the bridge will occur sometime in the next six months, and another opportunity will be lost. Things are quiet in City Hall on this issue, but sometimes it only takes one voice to make a loud difference.

UPDATE: To be fair to the Bureau, the new Riverside-Figueroa Bridge does have more space than the current one for bicyclists. This design shows what looks to be a dedicated bike path.riverside fig