By Jennifer Lopez and Guadalupe Lazaro

Bus drivers trying to get from Boyle Heights to downtown express irritation at the traffic delays caused by the replacement of the Sixth Street Bridge. But transportation officials say they should get used to it, because the project will take three years.

On average, 900 cars an hour used to travel across the 84-year-old bridge —known officially as the Sixth Street Viaduct — before it was shut down for reconstruction in January, according to Bearj Sarkis, transportation engineer with the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT). The bridge is being replaced because its concrete was crumbling, making it unsafe. The nearly $450 million project includes wider sidewalks for pedestrians, protected bicycle lanes and an eight-acre park underneath the bridge.

A challenging commute from East L.A. to West

Community members now take alternate routes to get to their destinations. Sarkis recommends commuters take the Seventh Street Bridge, which is one block south of the Sixth Street Bridge, or the East Fourth Street Bridge, which is two blocks north.

The detour has affected commuters and residents who used the Sixth Street Bridge as well as those who regularly use the alternate routes.

Erick Huerta of Boyle Heights has noticed the difference on his bus rides to work. The Fourth Street Bridge is now clogged with traffic. “It took the bus 40 minutes to get from Fourth and Fresno to Pershing Square,” he said, noting that it would have taken 20 to 30 minutes before. He remembers thinking to himself, “This is nuts! I’m not doing this any more.”

Huerta has taken steps to adjust. “I take the Montebello 40 bus really early now, definitely before 8 a.m., just to beat the morning rush,” he said. He also follows Metro on social media to get updates on delays. These updates have helped him avoid backups He also uses various phone applications – such as Transit and Go LA – that let him know what time the next bus is coming.

Reynaldo Barajas, a frequent bus rider, shares similar frustrations. “(Buses) take a long time, and when they arrive, they come two or three at once,” the 60- year-old said in Spanish while waiting for a bus on Whittier Boulevard at Soto Street. “They should arrive at specific times, but they don’t.”

ORIGINAL: “Se tardan un montón y de rato vienen dos o tres juntos. No es así, deberían de llegar a cierto tiempo.”

Barajas is frustrated because the bus sometimes arrives late, making everyone else riding it late to his or her destinations.

“Unfortunately, when they cause a problem, they only apologize,” he said in Spanish. “If the bus isn’t here on time – and I have been waiting here a while – and it doesn’t arrive, they should pay me.”

ORIGINAL: “Desgraciadamente cuando ellos ocasionan un problema, no más piden una disculpa. Si no está a tiempo aquí el bus – de que yo ya tengo rato aquí esperando – y no llega, debería de pagarme algo. Por qué no más nosotros los pobres tenemos que pagar?”

Affection for a demolished L.A. landmark

Many residents wonder whether the new bridge will have the same meaning to the city as the former landmark. The old bridge was featured in many movies and photographs and became a symbol of Los Angeles.

“It was a special place,” said Art Meza, a photographer born and raised in Los Angeles, “an iconic symbol.”  Meza documents the Lowrider and Chicano culture on Instagram, posting as “Chicano Soul.” L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti included Meza’s photograph of the Sixth Street Bridge in the art collection displayed in City Hall.

The connection for many Eastsiders to the bridge is strong, demonstrated by the impromptu gathering on the eve of its closure, when many residents united to celebrate both the end of a historical bridge and the birth of a new one. Hundreds of people attended the event, and Los Angeles police eventually had to close the bridge because of the crowd.

For Boyle Heights resident and artist Fabian Debora, the bridge has a meaning connected to his troubled youth. It’s where he would go to escape.  He calls it a “sacred space” and has a picture of the bridge as his cover photo on Facebook.

“It was a safe haven, “ said Debora, “a place to help avoid those hardships just east of the River.”

The design for the new bridge was chosen with community input through a competition held by District 14 City Councilman Jose Huizar and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Stretching 3,500 feet, the bridge features 10 pairs of arches, which pay tribute to the original design, but add a modern twist.

Michael Maltzan, the architect, said he hopes the new bridge will help unite the city. The arches have been named the “Ribbon of Light.”

New bridge knits together L.A., architect says.

“When you look at it from afar, that would give you the sense of east and west that are really knitted together by this ribbon. I think that symbolically says something about the necessary future of the city: different cultures, different neighborhoods, the different communities are much more connected, much more integrated, much more a part of a whole,” he said.

Maltzan hopes that memories the old bridge and the frustration with the current traffic will give way to a new connection to the bridge.

“I’m hoping [the new bridge] gives the image of a highly spirited, creative and connected city of the future,” he says.
Maria Estrada, a Boyle Heights resident who sells tamales on the corner of Whittier and Soto, said: “They say it will bring many things for the community, less vandalism. If it’s going to be that, I think it’s fine. If they’re building parks, recreational areas, if it’s for that, it’s all right that they close it.”

Esther Flores, a 70-year-old Boyle Heights resident, agrees.  “If there was something dangerous and they’re going to renovate and make it nicer, then I’m liking that idea, because we need a change here,” she said in Spanish while waiting for a bus. “I see that in other cities, a lot of things get done, but not here.”

ORIGINAL: “Pues para mi, si estaba en peligro algo, y lo van a renovar, y lo van a poner más bonito, pues me está gustando esa idea porque necesitamos un cambio aquí. En otras ciudades yo veo que arreglan mucho y aquí como que no.

“Según (como vi) el flyer, me gustó cómo va a quedar (el puente). Me gustó como lo pusieron ahí.”

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Boyle Heights Beat

Boyle Heights Beat is a bilingual community newspaper produced by its youth "por y para la comunidad". The newspaper and its sister website serve an immigrant neighborhood in East Los Angeles of just under...

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