DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - City officials have not yet decided which architecture firm will design the new $400 million Sixth Street Viaduct. One thing is certain though — no matter who is selected, the bridge connecting Downtown and Boyle Heights will instantly become a new civic icon that prizes pedestrians as much as cars.
Three finalists in the city’s international design competition to reimagine the 1932 bridge unveiled their proposals at a meeting in Boyle Heights on Wednesday. It was the first of four public presentations, including two in Downtown.
The designs by HNTB Corp., AECOM and Parsons Brinckerhoff are all aesthetic departures from the existing bridge, which must be replaced due to a chemical reaction causing the concrete structure to deteriorate — the condition has been likened to a “concrete cancer.”
While each design gives the bridge a dramatic appearance, the most striking difference between the current span and any of the potential replacements is not a matter of aesthetics but of function: Each firm placed an emphasis on pedestrian and bicycle access to the two-thirds of a mile span.
The proposals all call for pedestrian or bicycle lanes, whether at car level or via dedicated lanes traversing under the bridge surface. The designs also reimagine the land beneath the viaduct in the Arts District and in Boyle Heights as active park and plaza spaces.
The proposals mark a major evolution in city thinking on the bridge replacement project. Three years ago, when 14th District City Councilman José Huizar was told by the Bureau of Engineering that the structure needed to be replaced, Huizar balked.
“I said ‘no way,’ because I’m a preservationist at heart,” Huizar recalled Wednesday night.
After city engineers convinced Huizar that preservation was impossible or too dangerous, he insisted that it be replicated. But several influential figures, including Lewis MacAdams, co-founder of the Friends of the Los Angeles River, were pushing the Bureau of Engineering to conduct an international competition. Huizar was later persuaded that a modern design could facilitate community access to the river. The competition was launched in April.
“We can’t help but be thrilled,” MacAdams said of the finalists’ visions. “Here’s this immense infusion of money into the middle of the city and it’s focused around the L.A. River and the riverbanks and the evolution of the river through Downtown.”
MacAdams is one of nine people selected by Huizar and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to serve on a project design advisory committee. The group will consider all three proposals and submit a recommendation to the Bureau of Engineering, which has the final call. A selection is expected in October, said City Engineer Gary Lee Moore.
Negotiations with the competition winner would take about three months, with an 18-24 month design process slated to start by January. Construction would last three years, so tentative completion could be as far away as 2019.
From a design standpoint, HNTB offers the most wow factor. The firm’s vision includes a series of 10 arches that echo and multiply the two arches on the current bridge. The design is the only one of the three that would eliminate an existing support pylon that juts out of the middle of the river.
AECOM’s design hinges on a series of towers that are capped with golden sculptures meant to convey angels. The bridge would be supported by a cable system.
The proposal from Parsons Brinckerhoff, which also calls for a cable-supported structure, imagines a bridge with a separated pedestrian pathway drawn down the middle, with car lanes on the outside (there is a bike lane on the outside too). The chief support structure resembles a pair of wings.
The three finalists will present their designs and answer questions, and the city will take public input at presentations tonight at Para Los Ninos (1617 E. Seventh St.); on Monday, Sept. 17, at SCI-Arc’s Keck Hall (350 S. Merrick St.); and on Sept. 18 at the Boyle Heights Technology Youth Center (1600 E. Fourth St.). All meetings are from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Comments can also be submitted via sixthstreetviaductreplacement.org
Contact Ryan Vaillancourt at firstname.lastname@example.org.