The Santa Monica Pier bridge is structurally deficient and functionally absolete and needs to be replaced. (photo by Brandon Wise)

CITY HALL — Calling the existing bridge that connects Ocean Avenue to the Santa Monica Pier “structurally deficient and functionally obsolete,” officials are making plans to replace the 61-year-old structure, a project they hope will be almost entirely funded with federal transportation grants.

Built in 1939, recent inspection reports gave the pier bridge a “sufficiency rating” of 30.6 out of 100. A sufficiency rating of 50 or below makes a project eligible for federal funding under the Highway Bridge Program, according to a City Hall report.

Estimated at a total cost of $8 million, Santa Monica officials said they believe the bridge replacement project will receive $7 million through federal grants, leaving the City Hall responsible for the remaining $1 million.

The City Council last week authorized the Public Works Department to continue working on the project.

While no detailed plans for the proposed replacement bridge have been drawn up, officials said the new structure would be similar in design to the current bridge but wider in order to improve pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicular access to the pier. Besides a “lack of seismic reinforcement,” officials said the bridge’s functional deficiencies include overly narrow sidewalks, travel lanes and roadway shoulders.

“This is a critically important infrastructure project for the pier,” said Ben Franz-Knight, executive director of the Pier Restoration Corp.

Officials expect to begin construction of the project during the 2012-13 fiscal year, with completion slated for 2014.

City Hall engineers have noted the need for improvements to the pier bridge since at least 1995, when officials initiated a project to rehabilitate and widen the structure.

Planners conducted an environmental impact report and environmental assessment for the project, which was circulated for public comment in 2006. A final version of the document, however, fell by the wayside after the California Department of Transportation indicated the bridge rehabilitation project was not eligible for federal funding.

During the initial review, the Pier Restoration Corp. endorsed an alternative that called for a vehicle ramp to run parallel with the bridge and then turn slightly north to connect with the 1550 Lot. Under that proposal, the north sidewalk would be removed and the south sidewalk, which runs next to The Lobster restaurant and the Heal the Bay’s Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, would be widened to 16 feet.

Franz-Knight said he hopes City Hall continues to concentrate on replacing the bridge, and leaves other improvements and changes that have been discussed in the past 15 years for later on.

“It’s just time for us to do everything we can to replace it and them move forward with other options to improve access or traffic flow in the future,” he said.

One possible change could be to eventually turn the bridge into a pedestrian-only link to the pier. The space behind the carousel building that is currently used as a parking lot might also eventually be converted into something else, said Councilman Richard Bloom.

The pier, he said, is “one of Santa Monica’s signature resources, and using it to park cars just seems to me to not be its highest and best use.”

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