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Soto Street Bridge Removal Project Aims to Connect Residents

Local residents gathered at the Rose Hill Recreation Center last week to hear the latest updates on the proposed Soto St. Bridge demolition project scheduled to begin this fall. Since a previous story published by EGP News in February, the contract has been awarded and an official Notice to Proceed will be issued this month.

The three-phase, $14 million project will begin in October and is scheduled for completion in early 2016. City officials hope the area will be enhanced by the project, which calls for the elimination of a bridge deemed structurally obsolete, improved traffic routes and increased landscaping. The Soto Street Bridge links El Sereno, Boyle Heights and Lincoln Heights.

Of course, no development is ever free of opposition, and opponents of the bridge demolition were on hand to voice their concerns, ranging from health and safety issues to increased traffic flows.

Project Manager Dung Tran delivered a PowerPoint presentation on the complex project that include all the steps developed to ease the impacts on commuters and residents during construction.

For Tran, the project aims to restore a sense of community to an area that is currently divided by the bridge. Completed in 1937 to carry Pacific Electric red cars, the bridge no longer serves any rail purposes as the tracks were removed in the early 1960’s. Photos on the El Sereno Historical Society web site, opponents of the project, show the area around the bridge was largely open land, opposed to the rows of homes and apartment buildings that flank both sides now.

With the removal of the bridge, city planners aim to connect residents much the way they were able to do with the construction of the nearby Valley Boulevard Bridge four years ago.  In place of an industrial bridge will be roadways with light signals on both sides and lined with extensive landscaping. Tran also stressed the safety features resulting from residents no longer being required to cross under an intimidating bridge with poor lighting.

He acknowledged, however, that even the best planning will not eliminate all the traffic problems that will rise as a result of the construction. The main goal was to set up a series of detours and work schedules to maintain traffic flow. Tran focused on the steps taken to minimize all associated adverse effects of such a large-scale project.

At least one lane of traffic in each direction will be open at all times, he explained. All surrounding pedestrian walkways will remain accessible and detailed signage will be put up to direct residents to relocated bus stops in the project area. In addition, a Facebook page will be created to allow residents to receive updates on potential closures. Drivers will need to be alert, as signs will be added to guide them through detours that have already been established.

Once the PowerPoint was complete, the forum turned to a question-and-answer session, which organizers gamely tried to control with a one-question-per-attendee format. This was quickly dismissed when Dr. Tom Williams proceeded to wrap four different questions into one. At the very least, the corresponding cheers and applause the loaded question generated appeared to buy Tran some time to figure out where to begin his response. With plenty of water and a generous supply of Famous Amos Chocolate Chip cookies and Cheez-Its supplied by organizers, the audience was set for an extended session.

Throughout the course of the next 45 minutes, questions came in all forms. Some residents expressed concerns over increased traffic, noise and who would tend to all the new landscaping, demonstrating a lack of faith in the city’s performance of such basic services. Not all the opinions fell in the unfavorable category; several residents took their opportunity to offer equally spirited support for the project.

As the question-and-answer phase came to an end, Anthony Manzano offered a proposal that could bring significant financial benefit to the Rose Hill Recreation Center if adopted. He asked if it would be possible for the city to retain at least a percentage of the profits that the project contractor will make when the steel and metal collected from the bridge are sold to a recycler. Cora Jackson-Fossett, Public Affairs Director with the Department of Public Works, said the proposal would be taken to the board for further consideration. Saying she’s never before heard of such a request being made, Jackson-Fossett said she could not state whether it would be approved.

Manzano, a member of the El Sereno-area Neighborhood Council, supports the bridge project but would like to see if the city could use it to generate some funds to benefit the adjacent Rose Hill Recreation Center. Manzano said he would welcome a negotiation between the city and the contractor to retain some percentage of any proceeds for the recreation center.

The Department of Public Works will host another community briefing on Wednesday, August 14, at 6 p.m. at the El Sereno Senior Center, located at 4818 Klamath Place, Los Angeles 90032.