The City of Santa Monica and Caltrans have released a Recirculated Draft Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Assessment for the Santa Monica Pier Bridge Replacement Project, signaling the next stage in the long (long, long) awaited plans to rebuild the crumbling bridge.

If and when it is finally completed, the new bridge connecting the Santa Monica Pier to Ocean Avenue will be designed to last 75 years, improve bicycle and pedestrian access, preserve the Pier’s historic character, provide access for emergency vehicles and personnel, and protect visual resources. 

It will also be considered seismically sound, which the current 83-year-old bridge, constructed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration, most certainly is not.

“The deficiencies make it very difficult for the existing bridge to withstand a major earthquake without incurring significant damage to the columns and potentially threatening overall bridge integrity,” according to the draft EIR. “In addition, the bridge has concrete that is cracked, delaminated, and broken off in many locations along the length of the bridge, exposing reinforcing steel to both saltwater and air and accelerating corrosion. The existing bridge is seismically deficient and has a physically deteriorated condition.” 

On a seismic sufficiency scale of one to 100, bridges ranking below 50 are eligible for federal funding. As of July 2018, already more than four years ago, the Pier bridge measured a rating of 17, “well below the threshold for HBP financial support.”

The current plans have been in the works since 2017, according to this version of the draft EIR, but Daily Press reporting over the past two decades shows City Hall has worked on-an-off toward a Pier bridge replacement for nearly 30 years; this iteration is the closest the project has gotten to breaking ground.

There are three options for how to proceed. 

Alternative 1 would demolish the current structure for replacement with an “in-kind” bridge, maintaining the current length and slope of the bridge but widening it about six feet toward the south. 

Alternative 2 is the same, but would see the 20-foot widening on the north side of the bridge rather than the south.

Alternative 3 is a “no-build alternative” leaving the seismically deficient structure in place, but, according to a report attached to the draft EIR, “The existing bridge would continue to fail to meet current seismic standards and would not adequately and safely accommodate users during periods of peak demand.” It is, essentially, not an option, but rather “serves as a baseline against which the performance and potential environmental impacts of Alternatives 1 and 2 are measured.”

Agencies are under the gun to get the project started, since the Pier plays an integral role in the 2028 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles. 

“Within the near future, completion of the proposed Pier Bridge project is expected prior to the 2028 Summer Olympic Games when the beach is to be used for volleyball and surfing events,” according to the draft EIR. “This would contribute to a sharp albeit temporary increase in visitation of historic resources within the [area].”

The Santa Monica Pier, which just turned 113, currently houses Pacific Park amusement park, multiple restaurants and businesses, the historic Looff Hippodrome, the Heal the Bay Aquarium, fishing platforms, and a large parking lot. The lot, which has had limited access since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been the target of some in the city who would like to see it permanently closed. 

In response to questions about the prospect of permanently removing vehicle parking from the Pier deck, city staff have pointed out the move would require California Coastal Commission approval, which has not been requested; regardless, for safety purposes, the new Pier bridge would need to provide vehicular access even if parking was suspended permanently.

“Because of the need for emergency and delivery vehicles to access businesses, the Pier Bridge will always carry vehicular traffic, even if [it] were to be closed to public vehicular traffic,” according to the draft EIR.

The bridge is eligible for complete replacement with federal funding, due to its seismic deficiency. The draft EIR does not provide cost analysis or budget information, but Santa Monica officials estimated the cost at $8 million 12 years ago in August 2010. By 2021, that estimate had exploded up to $27,225,000.

A 49-day public comment period began on Thursday, Sept. 22, and will run through 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 10. Comments, which will be entered into the public record, can be addressed to Santa Monica Civil Engineer Omeed Pour, PE, at 1685 Main Street, Mail Stop 15, Santa Monica, or Omeed.Pour@Santamonica.gov

A public hearing is set for Thursday, Oct. 13, at 6:30 p.m. in the Santa Monica Institute Training Room, 330 Olympic Drive, Santa Monica. 

emily@smdp.com