Los Angeles

Los Angeles is Spending $16 Million on a Bridge That Was Supposed to be Free

The Atwater Bridge was supposed to be a free gift to the city from a philanthropic investor.

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Marine Way Bridge in Southport, Merseyside, England.

If you think the Los Angeles city government can manage your tax dollars wisely, I have a bridge to give you.

Last month, the city agreed to move ahead with funding a $16.2 million equestrian bridge. It was originally supposed to cost less than $4 million, and a private donation was supposed to cover the whole thing.

"Here we are, at this 11th hour, with a $16.12 million bridge that the community didn't really ask for," City Councilman Mitch O'Farrell said at a May hearing on the project, shortly before voting to fund it.

The bridge will connect horse stables in North Atwater on the eastern bank of the Los Angeles River to a trail system in Griffith Park on the opposite side. Right now, horses and riders have to wade across the river.

The project got its start in 2010, when real estate developer Morton La Kretz offered to pay for it. He estimated the bridge would cost around $3.67 million. The City Council graciously accepted La Kretz's offer the following year.

After that, the city's free lunch quickly morphed into an increasingly expensive white elephant.

In 2013 the city had to fork over $270,000 to River LA, the nonprofit managing La Kretz's donation, to calculate the project's engineering and design costs. The results must have been higher than La Kretz thought, because River LA was soon applying for millions in state-level grants to make the project pencil out. In 2014, it managed to get provisional approval from California's Active Transportation Program (ATP) for a $3.6 million grant. A year later, that money was put in jeopardy after River LA failed the requisite audits required to receive grant money from the state.

The Los Angeles City Council, fearful of losing those ATP dollars and of seeing the Atwater bridge die, agreed to step in, and in August 2016 it took over the management of what had become a $13 million project. That move secured the ATP grant, but even with that money the Atwater bridge was still nowhere near paid for: The Los Angeles Board of Engineering estimated that the project needed another $7.8 million in public funding.

Hoping to contain costs, the City Council had the Board of Engineering redesign the bridge to be a cheaper prefabricated structure rather than a steel cable bridge. That would have cost only $11 million. But La Kretz wasn't interested in funding a scaled-down version of the project, and those all-important ATP funds were on the verge of expiring, so in late May the City Council voted to go ahead and fund the now $16 million bridge, borrowing $6 million from the Public Works Trust Fund to close the fiscal gap.

Why did the costs increase so much from the initial estimates? Public Works Project Division Manager Shirley Lau points to safety measures, regulatory review costs, and rising construction prices in the L.A. market. Even when people try to give the government something for free, it ends up costing taxpayers millions.

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  1. Right now, horses and riders have to wade across the river.

    You know who else has to wade across a river to enjoy California?

    1. Arizonans?

    2. Moses? No, the Donners.

    3. Conservative or libertarian college students?

  2. Public Works Project Division Manager Shirley Lau points to safety measures, regulatory review costs, and rising construction prices in the L.A. market.

    Right, because rising construction costs in the L.A. market caused a price increase from $3 million to $16 million in less than 7 years. And all of those safety measures and regulatory review processes didn’t exist in 2010.

    1. Those were dark times indeed.

    2. Jerry Brown DID get re-elected in 2011. I’m not saying their analysis is correct, but I don’t put anything past Brown.

  3. Last month, the city agreed to move ahead with funding a $16.2 million equestrian bridge

    I think I found the problem. $16 million for a fucking horse bridge? In Los Angeles??

    1. I’m going to go ahead and guess the people who can afford to own a horse in L.A. are probably the sort to think that fording a river is beneath them.

      1. It’s true. They’re also people who 100% could have afforded to build this bridge with their loose pocket change.

        1. I think that is what the donor was trying to do. But do to this stupid transportation program, the city doesn’t want to just scrap the project and tell the donor the bridge is going to cost more money than you donated. He might likely either give up or get some other residence to donate more money.

        2. Almost certainly. And I wager they could have built one for substantially less cash than 16 million dollars, too.

          It sounds like a graft operation to me though, in that the guy who put the money forward from the beginning was using it as a tool to apply for a lot of grants, and thus a lot of opportunities to line pockets.

          La Kretz, from what I read, is a real estate developer and property manager so I imagine there’s a lot of opportunity there for someone with the right knowledge of the grants system.

    2. The neighborhood on that side of the river has a number of horse properties and a bunch of horse-related businesses. You can buy 25lb bags of carrots at the local supermarket.

      1. You act as if 25lb bags of carrots are unusual or something.

    3. Not to beat a dead horse, but you would be surprised how much semi-rural land LA area has.

      1. For instance, there’s downtown…

      2. Doesn’t even have to be semi-rural. There’s a guy that has horses next to Elysian Park just minutes from DTLA.

    4. There are way more horses in LA than you could possibly imagine.

  4. Here’s a 7 bedroom mansion in Beverly Hills that you could buy for the same $16 million, and no fucking horses to be seen.

    1. All those in Beverly Hills that fuck horses tend to do it in private. That’s why you can’t see them.

      1. Damn shame too. It’s a beautiful thing that deserve to be celebrated.

        1. Don’t nag those people about open beastiality.

          1. Whoa! with these puns.

            1. I better saddle up for the pun-a-thon.

              1. Going to have to rein this in soon.

            2. I’d give you a shout-out, but it might leave me feeling a little hoarse, of course…

          2. How about matching metal-spiked leather neck adornments around the human’s and horse’s necks, to make it all more heavy-metal appealing?

            Now THAT would be a horse of a different collar!

        2. But, if they ask, do I HAVE to bake the human-horse couple a wedding carrot cake?

      2. Hugh is just trying to pimp his real estate listing. He’s underwater and he knows it.

    2. And it even comes with enough space for one whole car. Not sure what you would do with the cars for every guest that would sleep in all the 6 other bedrooms.

  5. I wonder if they had just sold the land to the guy and let him build it himself If costs would have bloated so dramatically.

    1. They can’t sell the land.

  6. Lesson: NEVER give more money to government than you have to.

    1. Are you kidding. This project didn’t cost the donater a penny more than he expected to pay. The taxpayers are the ones who footed the extra costs.

      1. The bridge has not been built… yet.

  7. For $3500 bucks I’ll build a diesel-powered horseapult to fling them across the river – as long as I get to keep the Youtube rights.

    1. For 4 million a year, I will ferry horses and riders across the river for the next 4 years in my boat.
      No wait, I don’t have a boat. If the city buys me one for 1 million dollars, I will ferry horses and riders across the river for 4 million dollars a year for the next 3 years and 9 months.

  8. You know who else spent more money than he wanted to on bridges, so his horses could march East?

    1. Tamerlane?
      Alexander the Great?
      Xerxes? No, that’s West.

    2. Napolean

  9. Wait, this is across the LA river/drainage ditch, right? It’s dry as a bone most of the time.

    1. Not right there

  10. In 2013 the city had to fork over $270,000 to River LA, the nonprofit managing La Kretz’s donation, to calculate the project’s engineering and design costs.

    Wait. What?

    It cost $270k to figure out how much it would cost to figure out how to build the thing?

    1. Lunches aren’t cheap in LA.

    2. How much did it cost them to figure out that it would cost 270K to figure out the cost to build the bridge?

  11. Public Works Project Division Manager Shirley Lau points to safety measures, regulatory review costs, and rising construction prices in the L.A. market.

    Basically the people in government decided they weren’t getting enough out of this and needed more. Much more.

  12. The second the government became involved every contractor increased their prices by three times in order to deal with the government. its a fact of life.

    1. I learned this back in the 80’s when I bid on installing 4 satellite dishes for the PA state govt. I was turning in my bid (normal prices) when another sat. dealer in the office mentioned that the govt was slow paying, so he upped his bid. I quietly changed my total, adding a thousand bucks more. And guess what,,,,,I won the job. OPM, (other peoples’ money) always ruins decision-making.

  13. “after River LA failed the requisite audits required to receive grant money from the state.”

    Beware non-profits offering to help. This is most likely the cause of the delays/increases.

  14. Safety measures my ass. It was supposed to be an equestrian/pedestrian bridge. Then the bicycle lobby wanted a piece of the pie but bikes and horses don’t mix so well. Then the union that will end up maintaining the bridge demanded that it be maintenance vehicle accessible. So now the fucking thing that initially only needed to be engineered/designed for people and horses needs to be engineered/designec for horses, bikes, and motor vehicles. If there was an anti-theory troll lobby the damn thing would have to be troll-proof too.

    1. Goddamnit, anti-mythical. IDK why that autocorrected to anti-theory.

  15. I’m gonna donate the city a pool for my backyard. My estimation is it will cost $100 to build. I hope they accept my generous donation.

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  17. Lesson: get a government job.

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