The Mulholland bridge that might have been


For most of us, “Carmageddon” will be over after the weekend shutdown of a chunk of the 405 Freeway. But for the legions of drivers who use the Mulholland Drive bridge that straddles the freeway in the Sepulveda Pass, another battle will begin Monday morning. Think “Bad Karma-geddon”: Motorists will slog along a roadway reduced from four lanes to two as one side is demolished and then the other. This will continue over two years of construction to alter the bridge for the widened freeway.

But did it have to be this way? A year ago, Metro officials came up with an alternate plan: Build an entirely new bridge, then tear down the old one. That would have saved millions, required only one weekend freeway shutdown (rather than the two currently planned) and spared bridge motorists months of misery. Genius, no?

Complicated, yes. Metro officials gathered input from their community advisory committee and hewed to its recommendation to make the new bridge an understated structure resembling the current one. Despite that, the proposed design ran afoul of a number of constituencies. Some community activists thought it too utilitarian. The Mulholland Scenic Parkway Design Review Board criticized it for not seamlessly curving into Mulholland Drive. Several groups questioned whether traffic would be that much better during construction of any bridge in the pass and insisted that a new environmental impact report was necessary. At least one group threatened to sue.


Metro officials quickly backed off the proposal, citing the threat of litigation and the demands of the Mulholland review board. In a letter to the board, project head Mike Barbour said “the project does not have the luxury of time.”

Neither do many residents who use the Mulholland bridge to commute to work or to ferry children to numerous schools in the area. They now see a handful of community activists and the review board as the villains who have condemned them to two years of hideous traffic.

We wish this had worked out differently. Maybe critics are right and the design of the new bridge wasn’t as pleasing as it should have been, but the original isn’t the Golden Gate Bridge either. It’s a 579-foot overpass.

That said, it predates the freeway, and it or whatever replaces it must blend into the iconic ribbon of the 22-mile-long Mulholland Drive. The Metro officials could have made some design changes and at the same time explained to the board, which advises the city’s planning department, where they couldn’t compromise.

We don’t believe in making villains out of those who protect the vestiges of history and architectural aesthetics in a city with an appalling record of trampling on both. Championing preservation and design does not, however, mean being obstructionist or refusing to compromise or suing government entities and companies at the drop of a relocated hiking trail. We realize there were more changes than that being proposed here. But the escalation to even the threat of legal action only shut down whatever discussion might have continued. That’s something to think about when you’re stuck in traffic on the Mulholland bridge.