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City to consider alternatives to widening historic Los Angeles River bridge

June 9, 2010 |  4:45 pm

City engineers will look for an alternative to widening a historic bridge over the Los Angeles River as part of a seismic retrofitting project, officials said Wednesday.

Members of the City Council’s Transportation Committee urged that the iconic 82-year-old North Spring Street bridge be protected from what preservationists have warned would be its “destruction.”

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

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

The city Bureau of Engineering has proposed a seismic upgrade that would widen the span to 90 feet and add space for broader walkways and bicycle lanes.

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

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

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

Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who heads the committee, said officials have already begun to consider alternatives to the original bridge makeover plan.  He also said he favors leaving the bridge as it is and adding a new crossing for those who walk and bicycle.

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

Ken Bernstein of the city 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 change the bridge and force the city to strip it of its historic-cultural monument status.

After learning from Bureau of Engineering project manager Julie Sauter that the state has extended its deadline for funding approval until the end of August, committee members agreed to delay any construction until “a healthy discussion” of alternatives takes place.

--Bob Pool