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

SM PIER The start of construction for a new bridge for the Santa Monica Pier is at least five years away according to a report from City Staff.
In previous discussions, officials were told a new or rehabilitated bridge linking the Pier to Ocean Ave. could begin construction in 2016 or 2017. However, the Santa Monica Pier Corporation Board of Directors were told at their Sept. 15 meeting construction won’t begin until years of environmental and design review are complete.
“We see that these environmental review processes are very lengthy, and while it might be an exception, the California incline took about six years just to get certification on the environmental facet,” said Selim Eren, a civil engineer with the city. “We’re looking at two years for the environmental review for the Pier Bridge to be studied and then designed for another two years after that. In the best case, we’re looking at five years of planning and design before we can see any physical construction.”
Discussions of replacing the aging bridge have been ongoing for 15 years. Initial efforts stalled due to a lack of funding but the City secured federal dollars in 2010 and the project gained momentum when the current bridge received low safety ratings.
The project literally bridges jurisdictions with Cal Trans, the state agency responsible for highway maintenance, and the city working together on the project. Eren said Cal Trans has authorized the conceptual items for the project and signaled their willingness to move forward citing the projects safety implications. However, the process will still take years.
About 3,667 people cross the bridge on busy weekends and with that number expected to increase in the coming years, the board expressed frustration at the delays and questioned if they could be even longer than anticipated.
“I think it’s six years times a reality factor of two so I’m betting on 12 years,” said Barbara Jean Stinchfield.
While Stinchfield made her comment at least partly in jest, Eren acknowledged the possibility of additional delays.
“I’m talking about these as the best case scenarios,” he said of his five-year estimate.
Proposals for the redesign include widening the bridge by 70 percent, allowing more room for cars and pedestrians. A second proposal replaces the current structure with one focused on pedestrians, bikes and limited emergency or delivery vehicle access.
There will be several opportunities for public input. Eren said staff will hold public meetings within a few months of issuing the notice of preparation, and that the public will be able to participate in the comment period of any environmental review.
The discussion comes as the City prepares for several construction projects in the area including the completion of the Expo line, the construction of the Colorado Esplanade, rehab of the California Incline and the current work on Moomat Ahiko Way.
The delayed timeline would mean the bridge project might not break ground until the rest of the projects are already complete. The board expressed concern over the safety impacts of the old bridge handling the potential flood of new visitors and the impact the construction will have on the City once it does start.
“It’s disheartening to hear that basically, for the next 9-10 years, there’s basically no change when everything around is changing,” said Boardmember Misti Kerns.
The board asked staff to come back with ideas for incremental upgrades including replacement of the concrete safety barriers currently lining the bridge.
“I would like to know more about the kinds of things that are being done post 9/11 to erect attractive barriers at public facilities and there are many, many examples of those,” said Boardmember Susan McCarthy
“When you think about five more years of (concrete barriers) and kind of strange looking chains in those openings, it might be time to really figure out something more innovative,” said Board Chair Judy Abdo.

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