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How Santa Monica's California Incline is Being Rebuilt Better and Stronger

Last April, Santa Monica's California Incline, which leads from Pacific Coast Highway up to Ocean and California Avenues, was shut down for a year-long retrofitting project that was way overdue. Built in the 1930s, the bridge hadn't really had a comprehensive upgrade since then. "It had exposed, rusting rebar. It ... outlived its intended lifecycle," a rep for the contractor working on the Incline overhaul tells the Argonaut. The project is a complicated one that involves destroying the old Incline and building a similar, but more earthquake-resistant one without harming the bluff the roadway curves around. Here's how they're doing it:

—It wasn't easy to demolish the bridge without harming the bluff. Instead of a big, fun kaboom that would blow the Incline into tiny chunks, construction workers had to essentially cut the bridge into little pieces using a machine kind of like a big jackhammer. (It's called a hoe ram.) Once it was cut up, the pieces that could be were taken to a second site and broken up further.

—Workers are now drilling skinny holes up to 75 feet long into the side of the bluff into which they'll insert steel rods an inch thick. Ultimately, there will be "at least" 10,000 of these rods inserted in those tiny holes. Those rods will help to keep the bluff as intact as possible as time passes, and thus make the Incline less vulnerable in the event of an earthquake.

—Drilling is "painstaking" work, especially because the bluff is vertical. The angle is hard for workers and they don't have a lot of space in which to work. But the hardest part is that "You have to make sure that the nails don't collapse when you're drilling them into the bluffs." So far, none of them have.

—The bridge is being built to survive without the help of the bluff this time. "Before, it was part bridge, part asphalt-and-dirt. Now the bridge is going to be an individual unit that is separated from the bluff," says the Santa Monica Public Works Department's Incline project manager.

—The new bridge will mostly look the same as the 1930s-era bridge it's replacing, but it will be nearly six feet wider. The increased width will allow for three lanes for traffic, as well as add a wider sidewalk (for taking in those ocean and sunset views) and a bike lane protected from car traffic by a little concrete wall. The bridge makes up over half the Incline's length.

—The new bridge will have a nearly two-foot deck made of concrete that's "supported by a series of 50- to 75-foot-tall pillars secured by post tension cables" in the deck. Because of the tension cables, the deck can be thinner than it otherwise would be. The cables also limit cracking of the concrete.

—They've already started in on building the new bridge. Last week, 100 cement trucks helped to kick off the construction of one of the bridge frames (there will eventually be three). They poured more than 200 feet of concrete. The very last thing they do will be to stitch the bridge and Ocean Avenue together with asphalt.

The roughly year-long project is on track for completion next spring, as planned.