The main concern held by Boyle Heights residents over the closure of the Sixth Street Bridge can be summarized in just one word: traffic.
That was the sentiment expressed at a community briefing held Thursday at the Puente Learning Center and hosted by the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering –the agency in charge of the $428 million Sixth Street Viaduct Replacement Project. Fresh on many of the attendees’ minds was the nightmarish morning commute on Wednesday, the first after the bridge’s permanent closure to traffic on Tuesday night.
Some Twitter users posted photographs of Westbound traffic backed up for several blocks on 4th Street, one of the alternate routes for traffic detoured from Sixth Street. Westbound traffic was also backed up on 1st Street, which is closed downtown because of the Metro Regional Connector Transit Project.
— Erick Huerta (@ElRandomHero) January 27, 2016
At Thursday’s briefing, some Boyle Avenue residents complained that traffic being diverted through their street was so heavy that it was practically impossible for them to pull out of their driveways in the mornings.
Bearj Sarkis, an engineer with the LA Department of Transportation, said the the Sixth Street closure is adding nearly 900 vehicles per hour to Boyle Heights streets during peak hours. The city prepared for this by performing a number of improvements at nearly a dozen intersections East and West of the bridge, including the installation of new traffic signals on 5th and Central downtown and 4th and Pecan in Boyle Heights. But additional mitigation measures, Sarkis said, will have be taken as new traffic patterns evolve.
“It’s going to take a few weeks for traffic to settle,” he said, “for it to self-divert to other routes.” Still, he warned. longer morning and evening commutes will be unavoidable during the three-year bridge demolition and reconstruction.
The actual demolition of the 3,500-feet-long span is set to begin on the weekend of Feb. 5, with at 250-feet section of the bridge that runs over the 101 Freeway. Sam Esquenazi, a traffic manager with Caltrans, said the freeway will be closed during a 40-hour period as a safety precautionary measure.
The Caltrans official explained how freeway traffic was being diverted to avoid the 101 closure and said that residents were being asked to avoid the area if possible, or to plan ahead and find out about detour routes ahead of time. Esquenazi said the closure would end by 2:00 p.m. on Feb. 6, which is Super Bowl Sunday.
Representatives from the main contractor in charge of the project said that during the nine-month demolition period, there would be as many as 2,500 round-way truck trips to remove materials from the site. Trucks from the East and West ends of the bridge will be routed Eastbound through 4th Street to the 5 Freeway South entrance in Boyle Heights, then travel to a deposit in Irwindale.
Officials said most of the truck trips would be made during off-peak hours and that dust mitigation measures would be taken according to South Coast Air Management District standards.
To a resident’s question about keeping a memento from the historic bridge, a city official said no plans were in place to sell pieces of bridge debris, but reminded attendees that one of the structure’s iconic arches was being preserved to be installed in the park being developed underneath the new new bridge.
Less than 100 people attended the briefing, which prompted a resident’s question about whether the city had done enough to publicize the event. Officials said flyers had been distributed at key Boyle Heights locations and distributed door to door in the vicinity of the Sixth Street bridge entrance. They also said they were working with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and with Spanish media, to inform local residents about the upcoming freeway closure.
Photo above: Caltrans traffic manager Sam Esquenazi details detour routes during upcoming freeway closure.