Southland leaders praise reopening of iconic 1st Street Bridge

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A historic span that had been sitting vacant for years until Tuesday morning was reintroduced to the public today, as officials and neighbors marked the official reopening of the First Street Bridge across the Los Angeles River.

As Metro rail cars whizzed past the downtown skyline, politicians and transportation leaders shared personal stories about the iconic structure that links L.A.'s East Side to downtown - and extolled the virtues of the bridge's recent makeover.

“People from Franklin High can come down here, take a train, go to Roosevelt and watch Franklin beat them in football," joked MTA chief and Highland Park native Art Leahy. "Isn’t that wonderful?”

The re-opening marks the completion of the city of L.A.'s four-year effort to widen the bridge by 26 feet.

Construction began in 2007 for the Gold Line Eastside Extension light rail line that carries thousands of commuters between downtown L.A.’s Arts District, Little Tokyo, Union Station and Boyle Heights.

Though the bridge began accommodating the Gold Line in 2008, widening work nonetheless ran into a slew of unexpected delays including large boulders, utility lines, and restricted work hours.

In a report issued last October, officials confessed to facing a "$11.9 million funding gap" for what wound up as a $46 million dollar project.

Councilman Jose Huizar emphasized that the completed bridge would strengthen the connections- literally and figuratively - between different areas of town.

“Since 1929 when this bridge was first opened, it connected the East Side of Los Angeles with downtown L.A.," Huizar emphasized. "And today as you see, the revitalization of both sides, it becomes ever more important.”

Huizar joined L.A. City Councilmember Jan Perry, L.A. County Metro Chief Art Leahy and others at the cutting of the ceremonial ribbon.

Officials praised the effort and said they managed to keep the rebuilding phase accident-free - no small accomplishment due to the threat that the L.A. River's large boulders pose to the project. Developers urged Angelenos to check out the bridge at night - when they say the lighting looks its best.

The re-opening marks the completion of the city’s first historic bridge-widening project.

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