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High Line-ification of Riverside-Figueroa Bridge Study Falters on Unsupported Estimates; Seeks Public Support

RAC Design Build's proposal to turn the steel portion of the Riverside-Figueroa bridge (a City Historical Cultural Monument) into an elevated park, similar to New York's much-lauded High Line, has up until this point met with enthusiasm, or at the very least open-minded curiosity in the community.

"I love the idea," said David De la Torre, chair of the Elysian Valley Neighborhood Watch, over the phone, "I think it would be a welcome addition to the recreational efforts in the community."

"It's a really cool idea," said Don Ward, a founding member of the Midnight Ridazz and Wolfpack Hustle cycling groups. "They did something like that in New York, which turned out to be awesome."

Additional comments on the popular Eastsider L.A. blog also echo this positive reception of the proposal.

Their positive attitude, however, hasn't yet quite reached the city's halls. In a meeting set between city council members, the Bureau of Engineering (who handles the current construction at the bridge) and RAC Design Build (RACDB) two weeks ago, it seemed indecision reigned, fueled by off-the-cuff estimates of how much such a change in the current plan would cost the city.

The meeting was ostensibly set up to discuss greenlighting a scoping study that would once and for all determine how much RACDB's proposal could cost the city, if implemented. But rather than a fruitful meeting, backed with studied numbers and actual plans, they were presented with half-baked estimates, seemingly meant to discourage support.

"All the costs presented was merely speculation from BOE via the contractor," said Kevin Mulcahy, of RACDB. According to Mulcahy, the figures that were thrown out at the meeting had no firm grounding in reality -- it was essentially a gut check from contractors who had no time to think about the nitty-gritty costs such a project would actually entail, because they're busy making sure the current work on the Riverside-Figueroa bridge was going as scheduled. The unstudied figure given was $4.9 million, which even escalated as much as $12 million as discussions progressed and piles of miscellaneous costs were added. Again, these were pie in the sky figures with no foundation on actual study.

Proposed site for the bridge park

How the bridge park would connect to nearby attractions

The situation was exacerbated by the projected logistical difficulties presented by the BOE -- difficulties that proved to be unfounded less than 24 hours later. "We basically sat around a table and they told us there was no way those cranes could get in there in that position. If we proceeded, it would drive up the cost," said Mulcahy. The next day, as Mulcahy was driving downtown for a meeting, he witnessed cranes doing work in the exact location "[BOE] swore they couldn't do the work in."

Faced with the specter of ballooning cost and impractical logistics, City Council District 13 hedged on pursuing the scoping report, a study that would have answered the project's glaring cost and feasibility questions. The city's reaction has perplexed community members.

"I think they're just making stuff up," adds Ward, "They seem to find money for ridiculous projects, like a $27-million pedestrian bridge over Lankershim. Where do they find that money? Who knows? It seems like it's all political will."

"What concerns me even more than not hearing more about the proposal, was that it appears that the idea was getting tanked by a city department that wasn't giving it the opportunity to be heard that it deserved," said Steve Appleton, president of the Elysian Valley Riverside Neighborhood Council.

RAC Design Build isn't yet ready to give up the quest to re-use a historic part of Los Angeles for the community's benefit, and they're hoping to get the community's vocal support for the project. Mulchay says optimistically, "It's not over 'til it's over."

The firm has released a second edition of their proposal, which highlights the bridge's possible future role in building Los Angeles connectivity, especially along the river. It is has also prepared a petition, so community members can better show their support to further investigate the possibility of realizing this project.

Show your support to investigate the actual costs of realizing this project here.

Renderings courtesy of RAC Design Build.

About the Author

Carren is an art, architecture and design writer and an avid explorer of Los Angeles. Her work has been spotted on Core77, Dwell, Surface Asia, and Fast Co.Design. You can find her online and on Twitter. 
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