After decades of discussions, reports, analysis and funding attempts, time is running out to fix the bridge connecting the Santa Monica Pier to Palisades Park before the facility becomes part of an Olympic venue in 2028.
Repairs on the Bridge are important because it’s structural safety continues to decline. In 2008 the bridge scored 33.4 out of 100 on an inspection report and its score declined to a 17 in 2020. In addition, officials want all construction finished before Los Angeles hosts the Summer Olympics in 2028 because Olympic organizers have suggested the Pier could be incorporated into a beach volleyball venue for the event.
In a report released this week, City staff have concluded anything but the most basic of bridge replacement options would jeopardize funding from state or federal sources while also delaying the process by an additional two years which could push construction timeline into the Olympics. To meet the various goals, the city will jettison several ideas for an offset pedestrian walkway and eliminate any possibility of installing elevators to improve access. Planners are now pursuing three basic options: widen the bridge slightly on the left, widen it slightly on the right, or do nothing.
Plans to rebuild the bridge began more than 30 years ago but stalled due to a lack of federal funding. Efforts were renewed in earnest in 2006 but those plans were rejected by Caltrans. City staff were eventually able to secure federal funding for the replacement project in 2012 but environmental documents to support the initial plans were derailed by historic preservation efforts including the establishment of a scenic corridor along Ocean Front Walk and landmarking Carousel Park adjacent to the Looff Hippodrome.
When staff began work on revised environmental documents recently, they incorporated desires from various stakeholders that the pedestrian and vehicle elements of the new bridge be separated by a physical barrier. The plans also included the possibility of elevators near the base of the Pier to increase disabled access. However, construction of elevator towers would obscure views of the Looff Hippodrome and no matter what mitigation measures were implemented, staff said federal law would likely prevent installation of any element that violated the historic integrity of the Pier.
“Staff estimates that an effort to maintain alternatives with elevators may add two years to the project timeline and cause construction to extend into the 2028 Olympics,” said the report. “The effort, in itself, poses a funding risk as state and federal funds are unlikely to be approved for a project with elevators when alternatives with no elevators are feasible and have lesser, or zero, impacts on cultural resources.”
Elevators and walkways would also add up to $10 million to construction costs.
“Based upon recently updated technical studies, consultations with Caltrans, and a comparison of the options, it is evident that including alternatives with elevators in the REIR/EA would jeopardize both the Project schedule and federal funding (currently programmed for $27,225,000 in total),” said the report.
Instead, staff will complete the environmental documents without the possibility of elevators and pursue a construction schedule to finish work before the summer of 2028.