NEW? The City Council this week moved along design plans for a new Santa Monica Pier bridge. (Rendering courtesy City of Santa Monica)

NEW? The City Council this week moved along design plans for a new Santa Monica Pier bridge. (Rendering courtesy City of Santa Monica)

CITY HALL — City Hall wants to buy a bridge.

The current bridge to the Santa Monica Pier was built in 1939 and is in desperate need of replacement.

After being scrutinized by City Council and local businesses, several designs for the Santa Monica Pier bridge were passed on for environmental review at this week’s meeting.

Public Works Director Martin Pastucha called the current bridge “substantially obsolete.”

“The sufficiency rating of the bridge is at 29,” he said. “Just for comparison purposes, bridges rated under 50 are not even eligible for rehabilitation due to the level of degradation.”

One of the options that was approved for study, called Alternative 1, involves building a new bridge that’s 24 feet wider than the current one, with appropriately-sized car and pedestrian lanes.

“That creates, obviously, some issues when we come to tie back into the pier at the bottom of the bridge,” said Jim Rucker, a project consultant.

The bridge, he said, would be wider than the existing pier.

Alternative 4, which the public and Pier Corporation Board supported most widely, involves building a narrow pedestrian bridge that allows for emergency vehicle access and a second vehicle-only bridge at Moss Avenue.

This option includes adding a double-wide elevator from Colorado Avenue or a curving switchback adjacent path to allow an Americans with Disabilities Act-approved incline grade.

The current grade of the pier bridge is too steep and does not meet ADA standards. Anyone trying to get from Colorado Avenue to the pier either has to use a car or get help, Pastucha said.

There is already an ADA approved ramp from Ocean Front Walk up to the pier.

One suggestion involves installing an elevator that would drop disabled citizens down to the beach level, allowing them to use an ADA approved ramp up to the pier.

Currently, there is an elevator from the beach level up to Bubba Gump Shrimp restaurant.

Judy Abdo, pier board chair, is particularly concerned about ADA accessibility.

“I think it’s critical that we have ways for people to get on the pier that are safe for them,” she said.

Several Ocean Front Walk business owners said they were not contacted about the plans.

Pastucha said that postcards were mailed to these businesses and could not explain the communication breakdown. As a result, they held a meeting with the business owners last week.

They strongly opposed a Moss Avenue bridge, noting it would result in Ocean Front Walk properties being boxed in between two bridges and would block their views to the ocean.

Tom Moran, who owns Sea Mist Rentals, said that the traffic in the area would get worse and create confusion.

“The impact it would have on that area would be devastating,” said his son, Duncan Moran.

Marty Mink, who owns several buildings in the area, said he didn’t hear about the community workshops until late-summer.

“The Moss Avenue bridge will change the whole look, the feel, the open beach and boardwalk space that everyone enjoys,” he said.

City planners added a few last minute changes to the design to reflect some of the concerns of the businesses, including temporary bridges that would cut down on construction inconveniences.

Despite the bridge’s historical importance, the Landmark Commission decided not to protect the bridge, said Commissioner Roger Genser.

“Our concern is primarily compatibility and that the designs are compatible with the current pier,” he said.

He is also worried that the views could be blocked by the bridges.

Councilmembers validated the concerns of the public and stressed that City Hall is still in the early stages of the process. After the environmental study, council will again debate the different options before giving the project the green light. Construction would begin in the fall of 2016 at the earliest.

Council agreed to spend an additional $400,000 for the environmental study, bringing the total consulting cost to $1.25 million. This is all reimbursable through the Federal Highway Administration, according to planning officials. There’s not yet an estimate for the cost of the bridge, but that too should be reimbursed by the federal government.

“We really have no choice,” said Councilmember Kevin McKeown. “This is a project that must happen. The question is going to be how it happens.”

He reiterated the fears of business owners who say that the construction time of 12 to 18 months will be burdensome.

“I just want to say to everybody who has concerns about this project: Yeah, we do, too,” McKeown said. “This is not an easy project to contemplate. This constellation of things has been there since 1939.”

 

dave@smdp.com