Falling Down


Deterioration on LA’s 6th Street Bridge.
Yan Wang

Although Los Angeles recently launched a competition to redesign the troubled 6th Street Bridge, the city has a much larger infrastructure problem on its hands. 

In a study released in 2011 by the nonprofit Transportation for America coalition, many of the bridges supporting the city’s automobile network are on the verge of deficiency. The survey, originating from the federal government’s 2010 National Bridge Inventory, finds that in Los Angeles County alone, over 60 bridges have been deemed “structurally deficient,” with at least one of the three parts of each bridge identified by engineers as having a “major defect.” The defects indicated the necessity for general seismic upgrades, complete bridge replacements, and more, leaving many with an uneasy feeling about driving through the auto-centric metropolis.

The report’s grimmest news is not the sheer quantity of bridges under duress but the critical bridge locations at risk. The study’s geo-location graphic bleeds red at the most used sections of the Los Angeles freeway system. For instance two of the most traveled bridges near the downtown corridor are in dire condition: one at the 10 freeway and Normandie Avenue, and the other at the 10 freeway and South Central Avenue. Both bridges carry well over 300,000 people daily and are critical transportation links within the knot of downtown Los Angeles. Other key structurally deficient nodes include the bridge at the 101 freeway near the LA River and the 5 freeway and the 110 freeway intersection. 

Map showing structural deficiency around Los Angeles.
Courtesy Transportation for America

Angelenos bought into the dream of the automobile earlier than most of the nation, with a local freeway plan implemented in the 1930s. The plan grew to into a full-blown car addiction when the comprehensive freeway plan of 1947 created the modern highway network. With an average lifespan of 50 years, it is easy to see why its bridges are crumbling after such use. The early obsession with the automobile has led to the region’s current hangover of constant upkeep, rehabilitation, and replacement of its bridges and highways. 

Understandably, given the 2011 Transportation for America report’s doomsday attitude, cynics might view the message as slightly exaggerated for the purpose of procuring funding for the cause. But other studies such as the recent ULI Infrastructure 2012 report back up the urgency for transportation funding, citing the global recession as the main culprit of declining infrastructural funds at local and national levels.

Compounded with the seismic vulnerability of the area, Los Angeles could be sitting on a ticking time bomb. After an earthquake all major intersections of the 10, the 5, the 405, and the 710 freeways could be closed due to seismic damage. 

Meanwhile, Los Angeles has been focusing its attention on new, iconic landmark bridges and large-scale transportation issues like the 6th Street Bridge and the just-opened Exposition Line. But the most pressing issue seems to be the decrepit and neglected commonplace landmarks that we traverse daily. 

Related Stories