The much delayed, desperately needed and shockingly simple plan to replace the bridge to the Santa Monica Pier took another small step towards reality last week with Council’s approval of an environmental document required for the project.

The Santa Monica Pier Bridge was built in 1939 and serves as the primary transportation access for over six million visitors to the Santa Monica Pier each year. The bridge is inspected regularly and officials have determined that the bridge is structurally deficient, currently scoring as low as 8.2 out of 100 on a seismic sufficiency scale.

Aside from safety concerns, the existing bridge is not wide enough to accommodate the volume of pedestrians, bicycles, and vehicles during peak periods, leading to safety concerns and traffic issues. The proposed project aims to address these deficiencies by replacing the bridge with a new structure that meets current design and seismic standards and has a projected service life of 75 years.

City Hall has spent years working on the Pier Bridge Replacement Project to replace it with a new structure that meets current standards. The project is funded through federal Highway Bridge Program grants and is subject to federal, state, and city environmental review requirements.

The city studied eight alternatives to replace the bridge, held a public scoping meeting, and gathered community feedback. However, due to environmental impacts identified in the required technical analyses, the number of acceptable alternatives was reduced to two, plus a “No Build” alternative.

The rejected options would have included a new elevator to facilitate access but those options were deemed to negatively impact the historic structures on the Pier. In addition, the money required to complete the project coming from other agencies carries restrictions and the City is out of time to continue the design phase as the project has to be completed by the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

Costs have also skyrocketed for the plan. 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.

Both replacement options are essentially the same bridge with a wider pedestrian sidewalk. The preferred option moves the sidewalk to the south side of the bridge, raises it up six inches from the roadway and slightly realigns traffic to provide a straighter path for traffic entering the Pier from Colorado. The minor alteration will require pedestrians coming from Palisades Park to cross the bridge to reach the sidewalk but the configuration will hopefully reduce the frequency of cars hitting the historic Pier Bridge Sign and increase use of the area adjacent to the Loof Hippodrome at the bridge’s base.

Civil Engineer Omeed Pour said no option could cater to everyone.

“A lot of our stakeholders, such as the Pier Board, really want to better enhance access to the Hippodrome as well as those businesses down there,” he said. “There’s also a large volume of people that once they reach the bottom of the Pier, they go down the steps adjacent to the aquarium. So we want to better suit all these folks and their access, as well as aligning with the Esplanade. So definitely, it’s at the expense of anyone who’s, for example, on Palisades Park, who would then have to cross the scramble, but that’s just the trade off that we have to make and we had to pick the better option.”

While there were questions from Council about various elements of the proposal, including if it can actually be built on time, where the sign may be stored during construction and why some alternatives were withdrawn, the motion to approve an Environmental Quality Act report was passed unanimously.

The city will hopefully begin construction in 2025 with completion in 2027.

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...