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Villaraigosa, Boxer press for federal funds for 6th St. Bridge

October 27, 2011 |  1:47 pm

The 6th Street Viaduct, built in 1932, is not likely to collapse in a major earthquake, officials say. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times

The 6th Street Bridge -– which crosses over the 101 Freeway and the Los Angeles River near downtown -– is not likely to immediately collapse, but officials offered a grim portrait of its structural integrity Thursday morning, saying it has an incurable “cancer” eating away at supports and that it likely could not survive an earthquake.

“It has fallen into major disrepair over the years,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said at a news conference near the bridge. “We know that this bridge is at risk if we have a major earthquake,” she said.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa stressed that the bridge is still safe for traffic and that “engineers would have closed it down if it wasn’t safe enough.”

He and Boxer used the news conference to urge leaders there to act quickly to pass measures increasing spending for transportation infrastructure.

“We know where the common ground is,” Villaraigosa said about squabbles between Democrats and Republicans, “and that’s putting people to work.”

Built in 1932, the bridge stretches approximately 3,300 feet and shows clear signs of disrepair. Its walls are peeling paint and cracks can be seen on the supports and deck.

Los Angeles City Engineer Gary Lee Moore said the reason the bridge has become structurally deficient is that rocks originally used to build the structure were imported from Santa Barbara and contained silica, which mixed poorly with alkali in the concrete. That mix forms a gel, Moore said, allowing water to seep in and expand, causing the concrete to crumble.

Crews have used a special grout to fill some of the cracks over the years, but Moore said “there’s no way to ever stop this” and that the bridge needed to eventually be replaced.

Officials plan to replace the bridge at a cost of $401 million, made up mostly of money committed from the Federal Highway Bridge Program. Those plans are still in initial phases but current timelines show new bridge construction will begin sometime in 2015.

But funding for the bridge could be at risk depending on what type of transportation infrastructure spending is approved -– or not approved –- in the near future in Washington.


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Photo: The 6th Street Bridge, built in 1932, is likely to collapse in a major earthquake, officials say. Credit: Bob Chamberlin  Los Angeles Times