A public battle has erupted over the fate of an aging bridge spanning the Los Angeles River, with less than a week remaining before the city is expected to start demolition.
Neighborhood activists and architects had envisioned turning the old Riverside Drive span into a "bridging green space" through which bicyclists and pedestrians could cross the river. Architect Kevin Mulcahy, whose firm RAC Design Build laid out a plan for converting the bridge, described the proposed project as "the missing link" that would tie together initiatives to revive the riverfront.
The idea comes amid a flurry of plans to revitalize portions of the Los Angeles River, centering on a proposed $1- billion remake of an 11-mile stretch of the waterway just north of downtown.
Demolishing the old concrete and metal truss bridge is part of a replacement plan the City Council approved eight years ago. Backers of the proposal to preserve the bridge point out that the original plan called for a new bridge to be built where the current one stands. Instead, the new bridge is being built upstream.
More than 2,000 people have signed an online petition to spare the bridge, including almost 1,400 Los Angeles residents, backers told the Los Angeles Board of Public Works, a five-member panel appointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti. The old bridge, originally built in 1927, was designated a historic monument seven years ago, after city leaders voted to replace it.
"If we tear it down now and decide in two years, 'You know, we could have saved that bridge'...what a tragedy that would be," Eagle Rock resident Bob Inman told the board last week.
But the panel rejected calls to preserve the bridge after city engineers warned such a decision could jeopardize federal funding for the new bridge and create a host of other problems.
Interim city engineer Deborah Weintraub said her agency's "back of the envelope estimate" put the cost of converting the old bridge to the suggested new use at $15 million to $25 million. Keeping the current bridge would delay work on the replacement because construction plans rely on accessing the area of the old span, she said. The city has estimated that each day of delay would cost $18,000. Weintraub added that the new bridge will also include bicycle and pedestrian access.
City structural engineering director Sunny Patel also warned the old bridge had "absolutely no redundancy" in its design, leaving it vulnerable if part of it failed.
Mulcahy countered that design concerns could be addressed with retrofitting. Tomas O'Grady, executive director of the nonprofit EnrichLA, challenged the estimates of increased costs offered by city officials, arguing that "a guess is not good enough" to write off the bridge. Other proponents of using the old bridge as a pedestrian and cycling connection said that maintaining a span completely free of vehicle traffic would be a unique amenity.
Garcetti and City Councilman Gil Cedillo, whose district includes the area where the project is located, have said reusing the old bridge — though appealing —isn't feasible.
Decision-makers "have figured that we can't afford to risk the federal funds that we have," said Public Works Commissioner Mike Davis.
Those hoping to save the bridge suffered another setback Monday when a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge rejected their bid for a temporary restraining order to prevent the demolition. Their attorneys argued that the city could not destroy the designated monument before giving its Cultural Heritage Commission a chance to review the plan. Judge James C. Chalfant said the two groups were raising that argument too late in the process.
EnrichLA and RAC promised Monday to press ahead with their campaign to preserve the bridge. "We are not done fighting this," said their attorney, Jamie Hall.