CITY NEWS SERVICE
City officials formally reopened the historic First Street Viaduct in both directions on Tuesday, more than four years after the bridge was closed in order to build the Metro Gold Line extension to East Los Angeles.
The opening of the bridge with two additional westbound lanes on the north side will eliminate a significant detour for thousands of motorists who make the trip from Boyle Heights to downtown each day.
“More symbolically, it reinforces the connections we’ve had from Boyle Heights and the eastside to downtown with a better transportation system,’’ City Councilman Jose Huizar said. “It will allow for continued improvement of relations and activity between the arts district in Little Tokyo and the growing arts district in Boyle Heights.’’
Councilwoman Jan Perry, public works and transportation officials and community members joined Huizar below one of the bridge’s neo-classical arches to announce the opening to westbound traffic.
The 1929 Merrill Butler-designed bridge is the second oldest of the classic bridges spanning the Los Angeles River near downtown.
The completion of the $46.2 million project marks the first time the city has widened one of the bridges. Engineers said the expanded bridge would withstand a magnitude-7.0 earthquake.
To make room for the Gold Line, engineers widened the bridge by 26 feet and added two new westbound lanes. The project required workers to remove five 200,000-pound pylons supporting the bridge. They were strengthened, widened and put back in place.
Engineers also replicated the historic railing on the north side of the bridge that had to be demolished during the widening, replaced generic street lights with 32 replicas of the bridge’s original light fixtures, and installed four new fire hydrants for safety.
City Engineer Gary Lee Moore said the project, which began in April 2007, took longer than expected, mainly because construction work could only be done from April to October, when the L.A. River was at its driest. He said construction was also stalled because of unexpected boulders found beneath river bed.
“The Gold Line was never out of service during construction, and we had to do the work over 15 sets of live railroad tracks,’’ Moore said, defending the project.
Community members from Little Tokyo, the Arts District and Boyle Heights celebrated the project’s completion.
“Pictures have been taken on the First Street bridge, and people have been kissed, and thousands of people a day go back and forth over this bridge,’’ said Melissa Strong, president of the Boyle Heights Historical Society. “People have taken the First Street bridge from their past to their futures, and that to me is the real history of the First Street bridge.’’
Huizar said he has a special connection to the bridge since it sustained his childhood job. He used to ride his bike from Boyle Heights across the First Street Viaduct to Little Tokyo to pick up copies of the Rafu Shimpo, which he would haul back east across the bridge to deliver to Japanese families.
Monthly ridership numbers for the entire Gold Line, including the stretch to Pasadena, are up about 38 percent, to 947,000 riders, since 2009.
Huizar said the Gold Line has exceeded its goals.
“There was some concern initially about ridership, but it’s picked up tremendously ever since. We’re also reaching the other goal of having economic development where the line is now going,’’ he said.
“I see storefronts on First that haven’t been used in years now open,’’ Huizar said. “More people are walking the streets near the Gold Line. Yes, there was an impact during construction, but now it appears it’s supporting local businesses.’’