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Planned retrofitting of North Spring Street Viaduct moves forward

The North Spring Street bridge over the Los Angeles River received tentative approval today for a seismic retrofit, at the cost of sacrificing its eligibility as a historic-cultural monument.

A divided Board of Public Works voted to sign off on the final environmental impact report for the planned upgrade of the North Spring Street Viaduct, which was built in 1927.

The proposal now goes to the City Council for consideration.

Julie Sauter with the Bureau of Engineering explained the project would strengthen the columns that support the bridge, and also nearly double its width to better accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists.

"It's a safety issue,'' Saiter said. "The bridge — the way it is now — would not be able to withstand any kind of seismic event and is just not up to current code.''

Councilman Ed Reyes, who chairs the council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee, expressed support for the project in a letter to the board.

"(The North Spring Street Viaduct) in my district represents a unique opportunity to quite literally bridge the communities of Lincoln Heights on the east side of the river, with those on the west side, including William Mead Homes and Chinatown,'' he wrote.

"In addition, the seismic upgrades, increased sidewalk widths, bicycle lanes, landscaped medians, traffic signalization and lane enhancements create a project that serves multiple objectives in a critically underserved neighborhood.''

But Mike Buhler of the Los Angeles Conservancy said, "Make no mistake: the current proposal to nearly double the width of the North Spring Viaduct and strip it of all historic ornamentation while providing no additional traffic capacity will destroy its eligibility as a historic-cultural monument.''

Richard Barron, president of the Cultural Heritage Commission, said approving the project would be "a tragedy.''

They put forth an alternative proposal: retrofit the bridge, and construct a separate pedestrian-cyclist bridge alongside the span.

Representatives from Bureau of Engineering dismissed the idea, citing the bridge's "physical constraints,'' as well as "traffic routing issues.''

The board ignored calls to delay a vote on the issue, citing a June 20 deadline to qualify for $5 million in state funding for the project.

The city needs the money as leverage to obtain additional funds from the federal government to help pay for the total cost of the $48 million project.

The seismic retrofitting of the First Street bridge is already under way. A similar proposal for the Sixth Street bridge will be considered next month.