Bridge Game

Bridge Game

LA’s Bureau of Engineering announced on April 12 that it would issue an international competition for designs to replace the damaged Sixth Street Bridge, a viaduct connecting downtown LA to Boyle Heights, just east of the Los Angeles River.

The 3,500-foot long bridge, which spans the LA River and rail lines on opposing embankments, opened in 1932, is one of 14 bridges city engineers completed in an era of unprecedented civic architecture. The bridge may be the city’s best known and most beloved. Its art deco concrete piers and parabolic steel-truss arches make it an icon of quiet industrial beauty.

The span was constructed using onsite-mixed-concrete, a fatal error leading to a chemical reaction where the concrete eats away at itself, causing incurable decay that continually weakens the structure. Preservationists had hoped to save the bridge, but lost a key city council vote in November.

City Engineer Gary Lee Moore said a $401 million cable-stayed bridge will be built in its place.  The design competition, which opens April 25 with a Request for Qualifications, will solicit preliminary designs for a new bridge following a somewhat curved alignment slightly different from the dying 79-year-old span.

According to Deborah Weintraub, chief deputy city engineer, a “design aesthetic advisory committee” of between seven and 15 members, selected by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and area councilman Jose Huizar, will shortlist three entries. The firms, who will each receive a $50,000 stipend, will have approximately three months to complete their design. The winner will be chosen by city engineers and the state’s highway building division.

“The city has embraced the idea that a bridge can be more than a utilitarian structure connecting two points,” a gratified Alex Ward, chair of Friends of the Los Angeles River said after the announcement. Ward, who had pressed officials to underwrite a competition, said “We were like a broken record for two-and-a-half years.”

Moore said he had “begged” federal and state officials to free up the funds to carry out the competition. “I believe we’ve got to be able to look the community in the eye and say, ‘Yes, we had to take down an iconic bridge. But now we’re guaranteeing we’re giving you the best.’”

Some skeptics have wondered why the project is limited to cable-stayed designs. City Engineer Moore was upbeat, however. The cable-stayed bridge, he said, “allows the greatest creativity of design.” The city selected that bridge type from among 15 choices, based on input from its Community Advisory Committee.

FoLAR’s Ward, too, is hopeful that “we can have a new ‘crown jewel’ in the necklace of bridges over the river.”

That hope will wait until the short listed designs are unveiled, sometime in early fall.