Among the Santa Monica Pier’s 10 Million visitors every year, it is estimated that 95 percent of them use the pier bridge to make their way onto the historic recreational landmark.
However, this familiar bridge faces a number of challenges that the city is overdue in meeting. First, according to a staff report to the city council, “During times of high use, the Pier Bridge is not wide enough to accommodate the volume of pedestrians, bicycles, and vehicles that use the facility. Queuing affects the Colorado Avenue/Ocean Avenue intersection and other nearby intersections during peak periods. When the volume is high, pedestrian traffic overflows into the roadway. This creates potential safety concerns, which have been documented by both the City’s Police and Fire Departments.”
In addition, and arguably more importantly, the bridge is not seismically safe. According to the staff report, “The original construction of the Bridge does not meet current seismic standards and has a sufficiency rating of 8.2 (on a scale of 100), Bridges that are found to be seismically deficient, as defined by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) for bridges with sufficiency ratings of less than 50, are eligible for federal funding for replacement under the Highway Bridge Program (HBP).” The current bridge is 84 years old.
City staff assured the city council on Tuesday evening that, “It’s an important asset for us and we’re doing everything we can to enhance the pier and, specifically, this bridge.” Staff added, “We’re doing everything we can to advance the replacement of it.”
Staff explained that the Project Objectives for the Pier Bridge are:
- To provide a bridge that is structurally sound and seismically resistant, with a 75-year design life
- To ensure adequate and safe access to the pier for all users
- To preserve visual resources
- To ensure the economic viability of existing businesses
- To construct the project prior to the 2028 Summer Olympics
One of the challenges has been dealing with the bureaucracy inherent in securing Federal highway money, for which it has secured $27 Million in Federal Grant funding. That spurs CalTrans approval, but there are a lot of process requirements on planning and feasibility that then kick in that are out of city control.
The project has a long history, starting with a rehabilitation approach in the 1990s that failed to receive Federal funds. An effort to breathe new life into it was re-introduced in 2006, but the rehabilitation approach was rejected by CalTrans. So in 2010, a reconstruction effort was launched. By 2017, an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) offering three alternatives and two sub-alternatives began to circulate. Among them, the locally preferred alternative was deemed infeasible.
At that point, the city developed 10 new alternatives, which were narrowed to eight. This list was further truncated to two alternatives. Among the two remaining – Alternative 1 and Alternative 2 – staff prefers Alternative 2 for the following reasons:
- Alternative 2 would not split the esplanade on Colorado Blvd. Currently, Alternative 1 would have visitors diverting to their right across Ocean Blvd. to the sidewalk portion of the bridge
- Alternative 2 “activates” the south side of the pier a bit better, as persons will come off of the 15-foot sidewalk right next to the famous Hippodrome [that houses the famous carousel] that they may otherwise pass with the sidewalk on the other side of the car lanes
- To assist the alignment, the famous Santa Monica Pier sign will be moved several feet to its left to better align with Colorado Blvd. and allow both pedestrians and autos entering the pier to do so without the same “pinch points” they face now
If the EIR is approved by the council and the process can move forward, staff has an ambitious timeline that looks like the following:
- June 2023 – Begin “Final” bridge design
- 2025 – Advertise and later award the project to a builder
- 2025 – Construction Begins
- 2027 – Complete Construction
- 2028 – Summer Olympics in Greater Los Angeles
Staff is ultimately asking the council to first, approve a resolution accepting the Final EIR, and second, approve preferred Alternative 2 to move forward.
Councilmember Jesse Zwick questioned whether Alternative 2 was best for street vendors and pedestrians approaching the pier from Palisades Park vs. the Colorado Esplanade. Staff admitted those pedestrians would have to cross “the scramble,” but the loudest stakeholders – including the Pier Board – really wanted Alternative 2 to make access to the historic Hippodrome [home to the famous carousel] and stairs down to the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium to be immediately accessible.
Mayor Pro Tem Lana Negrete expressed concern with the timeline and the gap between design and construction not beginning until 2025. “It just seems like such a short time period to get it done before the Olympics. Why isn’t it going out in 2024?” she asked.
Staff explained the city still needs a coastal permit and the Federal process to run its course, which they warned could take a year on its own. Negrete, undeterred, really wanted more of an assurance it would be completed on time for the games, to which the staff said that it was imperative to move the EIR acceptance immediately, which prompted some chuckles as Negrete declared, “Let’s move this item!”
In both Alternative 1 and 2, a six-inch high rise separates the automobile driveway and the pedestrian walkway. Councilmember Phil Brock asked if it wouldn’t be advantageous to add a guardrail or barrier to keep pedestrians from taking a shortcut into the auto lanes when the pedestrian walkway gets crowded. He also wanted a straight answer as to whether or not the project will be completed in time for the Olympics.
At that point, City Manager David White interjected a message consistent with the rest of the presenting staff – that the best way we can ensure on-time completion is to approve this item this evening.
Negrete was again eager to move the item, with Councilmember Caroline Torosis quick to second approval.
The acceptance of the EIR and approval of Alternative 2 passed unanimously, 6-0. Councilmember Oscar De La Torre was absent.
Photo Taken from Staff Report