#101SlowJam: Demolition on schedule, 'going well,' freeway could reopen early Sunday

The sound of steady pounding punctured the Saturday morning lull at the corner of Whittier Boulevard and Boyle Avenue, where four oversized jackhammers methodically chipped away at the iconic 6th Street Bridge.

Chunks of concrete cascaded down onto the closed portion of the 101 Freeway, where a heap of debris had already piled up across all of its lanes. Steel rebar, once intricately woven, was exposed and hanging from column to column.

One demolition official stood below the bridge, spraying water up toward the falling concrete to abate the dust.

"As you can tell, there is no way to demolish this section of the bridge safely without shutting down the 101," said Los Angeles City Engineer Gary Lee Moore.

(Paul Duginski)

By 10 a.m. Saturday -- 12 hours into the demolition work -- crews had already demolished the entire 220-foot-long section of the roughly 3,500-foot-long bridge deck that they planned to tackle this weekend. The next big focus will be knocking down the three massive columns that were holding up the bridge, Moore said.

The work is proceeding ahead of schedule and the 2.5 miles of freeway closed for the weekend could be reopened as early as 10 a.m. Sunday, officials said.

"Things are going well right now," Moore said. "We will open the freeway when it is completely safe and the work is completely done."

No injuries have occurred since the work began Friday at 10 p.m.

Lauren Wonder, a spokeswoman for Caltrans, said motorists on the northbound 5 Freeway were facing about a 25-minute delay through downtown on Saturday morning, which is not unusual for the weekend. The southbound 5 was also seeing slower traffic in the area, she said.

While the demolition work continues, Caltrans has been taking advantage of the road closure and doing electrical maintenance work, removing weeds and other work to spruce up the freeway, Wonder said. Officials will also restripe the closed section of the 101 during the cleanup. Lanes have been narrowed by about a foot to accommodate the new bridge design.

On Friday night, crews laid 2 feet of soil over the 101 to protect the freeway surface from falling concrete during the demolition process, Moore said.

Saturday morning, workers set up barricades at Whittier Boulevard and Boyle Avenue to stop commuters from entering the demolition area.

Even after this weekend's work is over, crews will continue to systematically demolish the rest of the bridge over the next nine months, Moore said.

No other road closures like the one affecting the 101 will be necessary to tear down the rest of the bridge -- 110,000 tons of concrete when the demolition is completed, Moore said.

City officials have gone out of their way to warn motorists to stay away, creating the hashtag #101SlowJam and even a music video featuring Mayor Eric Garcetti.

The closure runs from the split of the 10 and 101 freeways to the interchange of the 5, 10 and 101 freeways, according to the L.A. Bureau of Engineering. Motorists traveling west on the 60 from the Pomona area cannot access the 101, officials said.

"My priority is ensuring that Angelenos are aware of the closure, and ready to either follow the detours, find alternate routes, [take] public transit [or] spend the weekend at home," Garcetti said in a statement released Friday night.

"Thanks to the cooperation of Angelenos across the city, our past freeway closures have been successful."


The 84-year-old 6th Street Bridge is being removed because of chemical deterioration in its concrete, a condition engineers have called "concrete cancer."

The $445-million replacement span is scheduled for completion in late 2019.

Longtime locals have said their goodbyes to the 6th Street Bridge over the past several months.

Hundreds of people gathered there in October for a festival to mark its closing. Then, in late January, they wrote their final farewells on the bridge's asphalt deck, concrete railings and high metal arches.

The 6th Street Viaduct -- as it is formally known -- was built in 1932 and was the city's longest, extending about 3,500 feet.

It became a historical landmark, playing a supporting role in numerous movies, TV shows and music videos.

Planners have imagined that the rebuilt concrete span will dedicate equal space to pedestrians, bicyclists and cars. They hope it will better integrate the downtown Arts District and Boyle Heights -- the two dichotomous communities it connects.

On Saturday, Jesse Munoz, 24, and Shalsy Corona, 18, said they were excited for the new bridge. Even though Munoz lives within walking distance of it, he has mostly used the bridge only to drive into downtown.

But with the new pedestrian-friendly design, he said he sees himself going to the bridge more often.

"I've never really had any fond memories of [the bridge], but I think I might in the future," he said. "It's going to look pretty cool."

Alicia Mercado, 70, has lived in Boyle Heights for 30 years, goes on walks every day, and had wondered for years if the aging bridge was dangerous.

Her daughter, who dreamed of being a model, once had photos taken of herself posing on the bridge. They're still displayed around Mercado's home today.

"It's all right," she said with a sigh, turning her head from the cranes in the distance. "What's old needs to be made new."

Twitter: @RosannaXia@ByMattStevens