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

Contact Ryan Vaillancourt at

(12) comments


These bridge designs are not going to win the hearts and minds of those of us who have been blessed with the gift of sight. These are very depressing actually, because when it gets rebuilt, all anyone will ever talk or think about is how the old bridge was better.


These designs are spectacular! I think I like the HNTB bridge best.


I like the HNTB design. It says, WOW and it can be a landmark that is associated with the city of LA. The design is unique and it's different.


At first pass these are all fine designs, much better than the originally proposed replacement. However, AECOM's design is the least attractive, and Parson's-Brinckerhoff's has a fatal design flaw. HNTB is by far the most memorable. It offers numerous vantage opportunities for pedestrians. Other renders show detail on the pedestrian experience; they walk up through and over its arches. It would be fun to explore on foot, checking out the high and low points in a quite literal sense. On the other hand, the Parsons' design doesn't pass scrutiny. Who want's to walk down the middle of the street? With cars zooming past in both directions, the experience would rival Metro's light rail stations in freeway medians, noisy and confining. Also, it pulls people away from the best views along the bridge's edges. The walkway is little more than a very long ramp to a suspended viewing platform. So much for savoring a stroll along the bridge. It's more like hurry up and get to a retreat.


I've noticed Sean McGowan posting all over the LA blogs promoting HNTB's design. Working on the project are we?? [wink]

I'll address his erroneous critique of the Parson's design here as I did on LASTREETSBLOG .

A central pedestrian walk is not a fatal design flaw. It is actually a safer way to bring the bicycle and foot traffic together into one community of travellers. See the Brooklyn Bridge as a case study. I've walked the Brooklyn Bridge thousands of times and I can say from experience it works. Given the security issues in downtown it is also a smart approach that allows allows people to be together instead of separated on either side on narrows footpaths.


Walter, just because someone doesn't agree with you, it doesn't mean they're a shill for the opposing viewpoint. I'm just an interested local like the dozens of citizens who were at the SCI-Arc meeting. You've been just as prolific in posting responses to me, yet I don't consider you a corporate employee with an agenda. I've gone to the meetings. I've asked my questions. I've studied the designs. I've had my own experiences. I simply have a different opinion than you. Good luck in promoting your preferences.


Walter, I did some research and pulled up schematics on the Brooklyn Bridge and compared them to the proposals for the 6th Street viaduct. The Brooklyn Bridge's shared-use path is between 10 and 16 feet according to NY's department of transportation. The 6th street viaduct proposals are not comparable. The PB proposal inserts a down ramp that bisects the promenade. At this point on the deck and for all points below the deck, the pedestrian/bicycle pathway is about 6 feet wide. It also includes a few u-turns to reach the river. The AECOM proposal has physically separated bike and pedestrian paths on the deck and a shared-use suspended catwalk. The catwalks is similar to PB and has u-turns at the ends. The Brooklyn Bridge is a generous space by comparison which helps it be successful.


I really don't understand, here they are cutting teachers hours and cutting aid to students, and they are figureing out how to spend all this money on architects for the bridge? I dont know how that can be...i really thing the city's priorities are messed up!!!![sad]


Guadalupe, as a teacher I am also bothered by education cuts. I can't get my administration to buy a $30 cable to connect the computer to the projector. Since I want my projector to work, I'm having to do what many teachers do and buy stuff out of pocket.

However, the money for schools and the money for the bridge do not come from the same place. In fact, the city of Los Angeles has almost nothing to do with giving money either to schools or this bridge project. School money comes from the California state budget and goes to the districts, which are not run by cities. The bridge money is coming from two places, a grant from the federal government and bond money that California taxpayers voted for in the past. Even if Los Angeles did not build this bridge, the money would not go to schools. It would go to another bridge project somewhere else in California. This money must be spent on a bridge-type project or the feds will take it back. The city of Los Angeles is spending a little money to improve the roads and intersections around the bridge project. I think we can agree that the city should spend a little money fixing up the lousy roads.


I attended the presentation at SciArc. Regarding the AECOM design, the towers themselves are an abstraction of the angel form - referring to our city's name, Los Angeles.The towers are both elegant and monumental. This is very different than what this article states " a series of towers that are capped with golden sculptures meant to convey angels".
The other feature I like is the pedestrian and bicycle path that is protected from above and to the side.

In contrast the HNTB design offers an Escher-like stairway that ventures even to the top of its arches, and a scary looking plankway down below and right above the river. I love poetry, but the success of this design seems hinged on urban planning dreams, rather than solid bridge architecture.

Nelia T

My big concern is how the HNTB and PB proposal will look overtime. I think I prefer the AECOM. I like its simplicity and think it will stand the test of time. Trendy is not always the best choice for something that may be there for One hundred years. Remember all those buildings of the sixties and how they look today. Also, the HNTB looks like a great canvas for graffiti.

Pilar W


My concren is that HNTB is extravagant and costly. I believe they previously won a competition in LA but their design was so radically out of budget that a design firm in San Diego was asked to rework the project. Isn't there a lesson here? Also - not to be seduced by grand-looking boards and ideas when there is little content underneath. I want a bridge that is beautiful, but that also responds to public needs and not just the architect's ego. I'll take less glitz and more sustainability and public integration.

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