The 6th St. Viaduct Replacement Project Officially Breaks Ground; Actual Breaking of Ground Is Yet to Come

Cyclists spiral their way down to the riverbed from the model deck of the 6th Street Viaduct. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Cyclists spiral their way down what appears to be a skateboarder’s dream-ramp to the riverbed and park area from the model deck of the 6th Street Viaduct. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“It’s not every day that you get to be present at the birth of a landmark,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti to the hundred-plus members of the press, city notables, transportation advocates, elected officials, and residents gathered under the slowly crumbling columns of the 6th St. Viaduct.

Mayor Eric Garcetti (center, facing camera) addresses a crowd of city notables under the 6th St. Viaduct. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Mayor Eric Garcetti (center, facing camera) addresses a crowd of city notables under the 6th St. Viaduct. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Although today was celebrated as the groundbreaking for the massive, $420 million 6th Street Viaduct Replacement effort, “groundbreaking” is a bit of a misnomer.

Earth was definitely thrown, via these handy ceremonial shovels (below), but we’re still a little ways off from seeing actual bridge-specific ground being broken. And the viaduct itself will not be completed until 2019, at the earliest.

The ceremonial shovels post-earth-throwing under the 6th St. Viaduct. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
The ceremonial shovels post-earth-throwing under the 6th St. Viaduct. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A number of intersections in both the arts district (west of river) and Boyle Heights (east of river) must first be reconfigured to accommodate re-routed traffic before the existing bridge can be closed and demolition can begin.

According to representatives of the Bureau of Contract Administration (BCA), Central Ave. and Whittier Blvd. will be the first streets targeted for reconfigurations in the next few weeks. The remaining intersections will be upgraded shortly thereafter.

The intersections slated for improvements to help accommodate the increase in traffic they will see during the period the viaduct is closed. They now number 12 instead of 20. Source: Sixth Street Viaduct Replacement Project (Click to enlarge)
The intersections slated for improvements to help accommodate the increase in traffic they will see during the period the viaduct is closed. They now number 12 instead of 20. Source: Sixth Street Viaduct Replacement Project (Click to enlarge)

Once that process is completed, the bridge will be closed to traffic and they will be able to begin demolition. Although currently looking at July for the tentative closure, the BCA representatives felt that might be an “aggressive” estimate.

The reason?

There are an awful lot of moving parts in a massive project that spans 3500 feet, a rail yard, an industrial zone, and two residential communities.

The city is still working to acquire several parcels of land underneath the bridge. As seen in the (hideous) photo from the October presentation of the bridge model (below), the new footprint of the bridge differs slightly from that of the existing bridge, necessitating the removal of some structures.

The new footprint of the bridge will require the demolition of some existing structures (in blue). Apologies for the hideous photo. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
The new (dotted) footprint of the bridge will require the demolition of some existing structures (in blue). Apologies for the hideous photo. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A. (Click to enlarge; for the powerpoint presentation from that meeting, click here.)

Demolition of at least one of those structures, along Anderson St., has already taken place. But many more are yet to come.

A structure has been demolished at 640 Anderson St. to make way for the reconstruction of the 6th St. Viaduct. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
A structure has been demolished at 640 Anderson St. to make way for the reconstruction of the 6th St. Viaduct. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The slower pace of the viaduct replacement effort did little to stem the enthusiasm of the elected officials on hand to celebrate the groundbreaking.

Electeds gather for a photo next to the model after the press conference. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Electeds gather for a photo next to the model after the press conference. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Garcetti spoke glowingly of the opportunity the project presented the city to champion a new approach to streets and transportation. The forward-looking multi-modal design of the bridge, he said, would “change the way we move as people change the way they move” and prove that Los Angeles has the unique capacity to “re-imagine and re-create things we think we’ve seen before.”

“For so many years, we’ve had our back to the river,” he continued. By turning infrastructure into a destination, “we’re going to [be able to] embrace it.”

Finally, Project Labor Agreement jobs that could go to local residents, he hoped, would help them feel that they owned a part of L.A.’s future. And that those men and women would one day be able to bring their children to witness what they had contributed to the city.

The community-building and people-centric aspects of the bridge were ones that all of the officials who spoke seemed to return to.

Jose Huizar, Councilmember for CD 14, underscored the importance of building a destination and prioritizing all modes of transportation. State Senator (and president pro tem) Kevin de León linked a people-centric planning process and bridge to improvements in public health, the reduction of carbon emissions, and the creation of a place where people — regardless of their status, heritage, or income — could come together and forge stronger communities. Assemblymember Miguel Santiago declared that it would “change the way we do projects” from here on out. Architect Michael Maltzan, whose firm was responsible for bringing the design to life, reiterated that the bridge was “more than a crossing…more than a simple span,” and that it illustrated that L.A. had the capacity to think about infrastructure as being accessible, beautiful, and integrated into the life of the city and its people.

The spiral that will let cyclists and pedestrians access the riverbed, proposed park and soccerfields, etc. from the bridge deck. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
The spiral that will let cyclists and pedestrians access the riverbed, park, and proposed soccer field from the bridge deck. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Despite everyone’s enthusiasm for multi-modality and people-centrism, it still isn’t clear how protected cyclists will be on the bridge. Bike lanes are definitely part of the design — there is space for them on the roadway. But, according to a few sources I spoke with today, although the ideal bridge would include fully protected lanes, cyclists may have to settle for lower-cost methods of protection such as plastic bollards.

The only thing that is sadly clear is that cyclists diverted to the 7th St. or 4th St. bridges during construction will have even less protection than they already do. No lanes are being striped there, meaning folks will essentially be on their own against heavier-than-usual big truck traffic.

Roosevelt High School student Angel Rodriguez stands next to the section of the model he helped the architects at Michael Maltzan build. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Roosevelt High School student Angel Rodriguez stands next to the section of the model he helped the architects at Michael Maltzan Architecture build. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

I stole a glance at Angel Rodriguez, a sophomore at Roosevelt High School, to see what he thought of all the hoopla.

He was one of the few Boyle Heights residents that was on hand to witness the groundbreaking. And he was only there because he had interned with Michael Maltzan Architecture on the project — he wouldn’t have been able to miss school otherwise.

While he didn’t seem particularly overwhelmed by all the speeches, he was genuinely excited about the project. He already knew he wanted to be an architect and was grateful to have had the opportunity to learn about how these projects worked from the inside.

It had also made him aware that it was rare to see folks that looked like him or knew communities like his intimately working on such big design contracts.

“That’s why we need you,” I said poking him in the arm, as we talked about the bridge, the potential changes coming to Mariachi Plaza and the 1st Street corridor, and the constraints on youth mobility in Boyle Heights.

He nodded. He was on the college track and he was going to stick with it. Which meant he had to get back to school.

Everybody wanted photos of the bridge model. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Everybody wanted photos of the bridge model. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Closing out the ceremony, Congressmember Xavier Becerra put in a plug for the federal government. An impressive $380 million of the $420 million the project required was coming from federal sources, he reiterated.

“In some corners of the federal government,” he said, “we are doing our work.”

Then, he offered people a “secret” tip: “Buy property real quick here” before the area changes and values go up.

“This is going to be a great place! Buy now!”

The bridge model on Mesquit St. as seen from the deck of the 6th St. Viaduct. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
The bridge model on Mesquit St. as seen from the deck of the 6th St. Viaduct. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

For more information on the 6th St. Viaduct replacement project, visit the website. I am told it will be updated with more information as the project gets underway. If you need more information on the reasons for the bridge renovation, see here. More background on the bridge and previous public briefings can be found here, here, and here. As mentioned above, construction is expected to be completed in 2019. Intersection reconfiguration will begin in the next few weeks and demolition will begin later this summer. Pretty renderings can be found here. If you’d like to participate in the project, either in construction or as a business (particularly if you are a minority-owned or disadvantaged business), please visit the project website and the Bureau of Contract Administration, here.

22 thoughts on The 6th St. Viaduct Replacement Project Officially Breaks Ground; Actual Breaking of Ground Is Yet to Come

  1. Don’t understand how there isn’t money to physically separate bikes from cars. We are starting from scratch. Just move the barrier separating pedestrians from cars inward into the roadway so that bikes and pedestrians can share the same barrier. Boom, problem solved and doesn’t require any additional funding.

  2. The spiral ramp (in addition to the entire bridge) was obviously designed by someone who never rides a bicycle for transportation and never wants anyone else to either. Gradual switchbacks are better for ascending and descending on a bike than a spiral, probably better for people with ADA needs too.

  3. I’m rather amused by the modern version of “Groundbreaking”–it’s more like a chance for grownups to go back to childhood days in the sandbox.

  4. Yeah, that spiral seems quite different from the original design, which zig-zagged more. But it may be a product of needing folks on both sides of the bridge to be able to get up and down it safely (it’s hard to see from the photos, but to descend from the other side, you have more of a ramp that crosses under the bridge and meets the spiral halfway down) while also being ADA compliant and accessible for families with strollers/small kids while covering a pretty significant distance to the ground. I can only imagine just how much skateboarders are going to go nuts over it, though…

  5. This isn’t a hiking trail. Switchbacks within the given area and height won’t accommodate the issues that sahra mentions.

  6. Is the “landscaping” shown in the photographed overhead projected drawing going to be installed in those areas cleared prior to construction, the blue buildings? What about underneath the bridge? Is there a plan to extend the LA river trail to the area and link it to the bridge?

  7. I won’t disagree with you on those points but remember, you’re dealing with a project here in an area run by LA politicians.

  8. Probably not prior to construction of the bridge itself, just because I’m guessing they won’t want folks under the bridge before it is safe to be there. And because of the equipment that will be in and out of there. But I am not an engineer, so I could be wrong. With regard to the bike path, I know they were looking at the extension of it this past summer (http://www.ladowntownnews.com/news/council-oks-downtown-bike-path/article_ad620504-fd86-11e3-ae1c-001a4bcf887a.html) and I did hear discussion about connectivity in some of the past meetings, but I haven’t heard anything since. I know the LACBC is working to push bike safety and connectivity with them, and given that all the electeds were so quick to praise multi-modality and mention bicycles, I don’t doubt that they’re thinking about it. What is left is follow-through… But I’ll check with the LACBC and see what we can confirm with regard to a river trail.

  9. Agreed, but the bridge is really high… so there is a lot of distance to cover. And given the real estate they would probably need to acquire to make a ramp possible, it may be out of reach. There are a lot of working industries adjacent to that area of the bridge. As it is, that spiral looks like it may require more space than they had originally planned to acquire (right now, it looks like it might be set for the big blue square on that terrible photo, a site that has already been demolished and doesn’t look quite big enough for that size structure — although I’m not an engineer, so I don’t know). They were short on details and long on ceremonial earth-shoveling that day. And the press release about the groundbreaking went out at the very last minute, so the intention clearly was not to have community members there to raise all kinds of questions like the ones you’re asking. For such a massive project, I expected more transparency and fanfare, and it’s been quite the opposite.

  10. My favorite cyclebridge in Amsterdam: the Nescio bridge to IJburg. Only one loop and a bigger circle but also steeper…

  11. Someone should check whether the spiral is an ADA violation. There are very specific rules about slopes for ADA access — you have to have landings every so many feet.

  12. You’re right and I’m pretty sure that a spiraling ramp is a violation. It of course isn’t hard to put landings on a spiral, though. Unfortunately, knowing how these things always end up working, I fully expect this small “oversight” to cause the bike/ped access to get “delayed”, then they’ll be “out of money” due to “overruns” on the main bridge span. The American way, you know.

  13. I really don’t think you skateboard. Maybe long boarders will be excited, as they’re attracted to mellow curving downgrades, but there are plenty of other less populated hills in L.A. better suited for skateboards. I imagine most skateboarders will feel displaced by this project more than anything else. We’ve been skating different spots along the L.A. River for decades now. Up until a few years ago you would only ever see Hollywood productions, the occasional bicyclist, and homeless person in the river. With the gentrification of the Arts District, there’s already way more traffic in spots that were once very secluded.

  14. Pretty sure there is another longer sloping ramp which leads to the tail end of the spiral to maintain ADA compliance.

  15. I do not skateboard. But there are a lot of young skateboarders in Boyle Heights that don’t have a lot of places to go. They get harassed by the sheriffs at Mariachi Plaza, and while there is a new skate park up Hazard, it is hard to get to. The one at Hollenbeck is kind of for more advanced skateboarders. And the sidewalks around Boyle Heights are in poor condition, and many of the side streets are inaccessible because of gang issues. So, if a kid wants to hang out, he has few choices. For that reason alone — a well, lit, neutral, safe bridge will be a draw for youth for sure, not a deterrent. Whether or not the ramp will appeal, I can’t say for sure. I imagine it will to some. I see the youth barreling down a hill on 1st St. (against traffic) and taking a wide curve onto Pecan or Gless, so I don’t think it would be unattractive to them…

  16. My father – mother -inlaw.met in the 30’s cleaning the carts they we’re married for 68yrs in he pass on..had 12 kids & you wouldn’t believe how grandchildren they had..for being my in laws they we’re very good people. Thier kids & grandkids miss them dearly. .

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