L.A. panel considers saving a bridge too dear

Preservationists have convinced Los Angeles engineers to take a broader view of a narrow bridge over the Los Angeles River that officials want to widen and renovate.

Members of the City Council’s Transportation Committee said Wednesday that alternatives will be sought to what conservationists have warned would be the “destruction” of the 82-year-old North Spring Street bridge near Chinatown in a widening and seismic-upgrade project.

The iconic viaduct, built atop graceful concrete arches, is one of 14 Los Angeles River crossings that have been designated as historic bridges by the city.

But the four-lane bridge is only about 50 feet wide, with room for only a narrow sidewalk on one side of the span.

The city’s Bureau of Engineering has proposed a seismic renovation and widening that would expand the bridge 90 feet, adding room for wide walkways and bicycle lanes.

Although officials have mulled over the rehabilitation plan for four years, they were forced to fast-track the process because of a June 20 deadline to obtain the state’s 20% share of the $48-million construction cost.

Residents of Chinatown and Lincoln Heights joined preservationists in urging that the look and size of the bridge be retained — perhaps by building a separate bridge for pedestrians and cyclists.

Several of them appeared Wednesday along with a representative of the Los Angeles Conservancy before the Transportation Committee to beg that the historic bridge be left intact.

Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who heads the committee, said alternatives to the original bridge makeover were already being considered. He said he also favors leaving the bridge intact and adding a new crossing for pedestrians and bikers.

“You say a lot of Hail Marys when you cycle across” the bridge now, committee member Councilman Tom LaBonge said.

Ken Bernstein, from the Planning Department’s Office of Historic Resources, described the Spring Street bridge, built in 1928, as “a centerpiece” of Los Angeles’ collection of historic bridges. He warned that its widening would significantly alter the bridge and force the city to strip it of its Historic-Cultural Monument status.

Committee members agreed to delay any construction until alternatives are considered. But Bureau of Engineering project manager Julie Sauter warned that under current guidelines, the federal and state funding for the project will not cover construction of a separate river bridge for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Rosendahl, who said the city does not want to lose the funding, indicated that the issue may next be taken up by a joint meeting of the council’s Transportation and Public Works committees.