The opening of public infrastructure projects generally brings a bunch of politicians in suits who make self-congratulatory speeches and then assemble for a photo op—a pair of oversized prop scissors to cut a big ribbon usually makes an appearance, too.
That will likely happen at this weekend’s dedication of the new Sixth Street Viaduct. But expect that ceremonial snipping to be quickly forgotten amid a slate of more attention-worthy and loud happenings: The debut of the $588 million project includes a display of vintage automobiles, a battalion of food trucks and an al fresco performance by the beloved L.A. salsa/hip-hop/rock band Ozomatli.
“This will be another iconic symbol of Los Angeles,” Kevin de León told Los Angeles on Thursday afternoon. De León, who helped secure state funds for the project when he was president of the California Senate and now represents the territory as a member of the City Council, described it as on par with the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory.
“This bridge will be part of a troika of iconic symbols not just nationwide, but globally,” he added.
The bridge connects Boyle Heights and the Arts District in Downtown L.A. and replaces an aged structure that was razed in 2016; when that came down, then-Councilman José Huizar hosted an event dubbed “Rock Day L.A.,” during which stones from the deconstructed span were handed out.
The old bridge was demolished after engineers detected a phenomenon called “alkali-silica reaction” which was causing concrete in the structure to become seismically unsound. There were concerns that it could be susceptible to collapse in an earthquake.
The design process took years, and as far back as 2009 local officials were pushing a cable-supported replacement that was slated to cost under $400 million. Ultimately, the city Bureau of Engineering selected a theme known as “The Ribbon of Light.” Designed by architect Michael Maltzan and the firm HNTB, the bridge is defined by 20 undulating, LED-lit arches—from 30 to 60 feet tall—that echo curving elements from the original bridge. The development process was overseen by City Engineer Gary Lee Moore.
The 3,500-foot-long bridge stretches over the Los Angeles River, but that is only part of it. It also traverses a series of 18 railroad tracks—operated by five different agencies—as it runs from Mateo Street in Downtown to just east of the 101 Freeway in Boyle Heights. The structure is 100 feet wide—an impressive 40 feet wider than the previous version. Funds for the viaduct came from the Federal Highway Administration, the California Department of Transportation and from the city budget.
The project is a bridge in name but also in the too-easy symbolic sense. It physically connects a predominately Latino community and a hipster haven that has seen explosive growth in the last decade. It unites 90 years of Los Angeles history, with the original 1932 debut and the current replacement.
“The Sixth Street Viaduct isn’t just a connection between our communities—it’s a new landmark that represents the tenacity, beauty and promise that defines Los Angeles,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement announcing its opening.
In a quintessential modern mobility manner, the bridge serves multiple users. The heaviest traffic will come from speeding automobiles, but the project includes 10-foot-wide bike lanes, on both sides, that are protected from vehicles by bollards and curbs. There are wide sidewalks for pedestrians.
De León described it as a pace-setter for future civic endeavors.
“For a lot of public works projects in the city and region of Los Angeles, the mindset clearly has to be about sustainability, and how do we create an environment that’s conducive for future generations?” he said. “This city of L.A. has been a car-centric environment to the demise of the health of so many Angelenos.”
Those health and community aspects surface in other ways. A 12-acre park on the Boyle Heights side, slated to open next year, will provide soccer fields, river access, a dog park and more. The western portion will hold an art park named for the late Leonard Hill, an aficionado and developer who was active downtown. Five sets of stairs will connect the bridge deck to the ground.
An invite-only, dignitary-stuffed event on Friday evening will bring the speeches while the Saturday celebration brings the noise for an audience of 15,000. Gates open at 2 p.m., and performances by the bands Buyepongo and La Sonora Dinamita give way to headliners Ozomatli. The free tickets have all been dispensed, but walk-up revelers can assemble at 5 p.m. and will be allowed in an hour later (capacity restrictions permitting).
On Sunday, the new bridge opens, at last. Pedestrians and cyclists can cross starting at 11 a.m. At 4 p.m. De León, in a lowrider, will be the first to drive across. All cars may cross at 7 p.m.
Come Monday morning, rush hour crowds will have a new way to get into Downtown or Boyle Heights.
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