Balancing Past and Present on the 6th Street Bridge

By Kris Fortin, LA Street Blogs

At the announcement of the Design Aesthetic Advisory Committee for the 6th Street Bridge earlier this month, one of the biggest issues was the opposing ideas for a design that respects the past, against one that represents the future.

“This is an opportunity of a lifetime for all of us to create a symbol for L.A. and an example of infrastructure done in this moment in the most sensitive way possible,” said Deborah Weintraub, chief deputy city engineer, during the July 9 meeting.

Community members from the Downtown Arts District, historical and conservatory groups, city government, and Boyle Heights had similar views on things like making the bridge a destination. But, people differed on what kind of experience it should create.

The project budget is $401 million, with $190 million for construction. The consultant is expected to complete the final design by 2014; construction will begin a year later, and will finish by 2018.

The river, landscaping, bicycle, pedestrian element that was included in the construction budget was allocated $5 million.

“There’s clear expectations on what we are doing with that money,” said Gary Lee Moore, City Engineer. Funding for the project, which comes from the Federal Highway Administration and the California Department of Transportation, has left the City with little flexibility on how to use the money, Moore said.

The demolition and reconstruction of the 6th Street Bridge is due to a condition in the concrete known as Alkai Silica Reaction, which causes the cement to disintegrate.

The three design consultants announced Tuesday — AECOM, HNTB and Parsons Brinckerhoff —will give public presentations on their proposed designs on September 12-13. The Bureau of Engineering will give two more presentations to the public on September 17-18.

The DAAC, which is made up of community members, academics and business owners, will give input on the bridge’s aesthetics, roadways under it, the colors, textures, lighting, railings, and the gateways elements. Yet, the actual makeup of the committee had one glaring detail: the exclusion of women on the committee.

When Michael McClure, planning officer for the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council, asked why there were no women on the committee, Moore smiled and scratched his head in response.

During the public comment period, community members spoke about their expectations for the project. Here are a few of them:

“We need to look at this more than just deliver cars, so much more than to deliver people, bicycles. We need this bridge to become the center of focus for LA for a while.

“Would like to see a destination restaurant suspended underneath the bridge.” – Will Wright, Downtown L.A. resident; Director, Government & Public Affairs at AIA, Los Angeles (Los Angeles Streetsblog board member)

“On (the eastside) of the bridge, you’re just looking at the freeways. Would like to enhance the view from Whittier and Boyle, and provide a better entrance to the bridge.” -Ernesto Espinoza, Boyle Heights resident.

—“It would be great to incorporate the rich history of all the Jewish, Russian, Japanese immigrants, and the historic Boyle Heights. The arts district can benefit. It could be another new icon for L.A., that balances historic, but helps us move forward.” -Cesar Armendariz, DAAC member, President of Board of Directors, Boyle Heights Chamber of Commerce; Professor, USC Marshall School of Business

—“It is to my hope that this bridge, which has been complement of four historic bridges . . . will recall, and reflect, and respect this compliment of bridges, so that this isn’t a piece of iconic pop art.” -Roella Louie, vice president of Cultural Heritage Commission

—“Replacing the current icon with another icon is a tremendous opportunity for Los Angeles.”

“(But), we wouldn’t want a stand alone bridge that has no relationship to the other bridges.” -Adrian Scott Fine, Director of Advocacy for Los Angeles Conservancy

—“It should light up at night in a very special way. We could do LED lights, along just the bottom maybe, so there could be a blue strip of light in the skyline. The cords could be lighted.” -An unidentified 20-year-old University of California, Berkley student

—“I’m actually afraid of bogging down the process, by saying don’t forget about the old 6th Street Bridge when we design it.”

“A bridge by design is really celebration of technology. How do you employ cutting edge technology to an urban obstacle.” -Yuval Bar-Zemer, DAAC member, Arts District Resident; President and CEO, Linear City, LLC

For updates, go to www.la6thstreetviaduct.org. Or follow the project’s Facebook page or Twitter account.

A version of this story was published on LA Street Blogs on July 25, 2012.

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August 2, 2012  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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