The Sixth Street Bridge is Falling Down—On Purpose

A $442-million project to replace it is officially underway

The Sixth Street Viaduct Replacement Project officially broke ground late last week on a $442-million project to replace the historic bridge connecting the Arts District to Boyle Heights across the L.A. River with a safer, more seismically sound model.

This isn’t just any old bridge coming down. The viaduct is perhaps most famous for being where the Thunder Road race takes place in the musical Grease, but it’s got real-life prominence, too. A Caltrans survey conducted in the ’80s deemed the bridge eligible for inclusion in the National Registry of Historic Places.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has said the structure is “fatally damaged,” attended the groundbreaking. His take on the development plans? The bridge is “an architectural marvel and a testament to the vision and determination of this city,” but a “modern landmark” that is safe and can keep up with 21st-century traffic would better serve the city.

Studies have found that the 3,500-foot bridge, which was constructed in 1932, would not be able to withstand a major earthquake. Certain elements of the bridge have deteriorated over its 80-year lifespan due to a chemical process called alkali silica reaction (ASR), a dangerous concrete condition that causes cracking and other structural issues. Though pricey restorative measures have been attempted, none have been successful, according to the project’s website.

But all those safety issues will be water under the bridge by 2018 when the viaduct’s makeover—which was conceptualized by architect Michael Maltzan and includes ribbon-like, cable-supported arches along the entire length of the viaduct—is expected to be complete. Not only will the new bridge be less vulnerable to those pesky tremors, but it will also feature roadway shoulders, wider sidewalks, and river access in addition to being bike friendly.