What Few Have Seen: the New Luis G. Gutierrez Bridge Across the Santa Cruz

April 2, 2012

By Teya Vitu

All the artistry is yet to come for the Luis G. Gutierrez Bridge across the Santa Cruz River.

Out of sight and out of mind of just about everybody, the Luis G. Gutierrez Bridge has strikingly taken form across the Santa Cruz River since June 20, 2011, about a quarter mile south of Congress Street.

By the first week of July, the bridge – known as the Cushing Street Bridge when construction started – will be done, quite the artistic marvel.

Now named for the former Tucson city manager, the bridge will remain out of sight and out of mind until early 2013 because the roadway will remain unfinished.

“Very soon we’re going to be putting streetcar tracks through here,” said Jesse Gutierrez, construction manager for the Tucson Department of Transportation. “It will look like an almost completed roadway, but why pave it when we’re going to rip it up again?”

Streetcar track construction is expected to get to the bridge in late 2012 and early 2013, Gutierrez said.

The $6.8 million construction project includes the 310-foot, two-span, concrete girder bridge, the roughly 400-foot approach road from the freeway frontage road and the roughly 300-foot approach road from Avenida del Convento.

When open, the Luis G. Gutierrez Bridge will offer a direct route from Grande Avenue to the Tucson Convention Center and the rest of Downtown.

Ashton Construction started work last summer by drilling the shaft for the center columns in the Santa Cruz River. Then work shifted to the abutments at each end, which involved drilling shafts 100 deep feet and filling them with concrete, Gutierrez said.

Pier caps were installed atop the columns and abutments. Then a series of 153-foot long concrete girders, each weighing 160,000 pounds, bridged the gaps from the abutments to the central columns.

“It’s a very simple structure,” Gutierrez said. “On top of the girders is all the steel and the deck.”

The Luis G. Gutierrez Bridge with the Downtown skyline.

Landmark moments in the construction process came in the last week of March when the concrete for half of the bridge deck was poured. The other half was poured in the first week of April.

“Then it’s all the dollying up,” Gutierrez said.

Right now, the bridge is 85 percent done, but it has little personality so far. What’s up is essentially the skeleton. You really can’t tell what the bridge will look like when it’s done.

A few hints of the artistry are in place. Faint tracings of wildlife grace the central column, and decorative corbels jut out from the abutments beneath the bridge, but nearly all the design artistry comes with the final 15 percent of work.

April will bring the concrete balustrade railings that evoke the 1920s with many small arches. These balustrade railings resemble those of the old Congress Street Bridge that came down in the early 1970s and also the balustrades on the Stone Avenue Underpass.

The historic design perfectly bridges the history on both sides of the river, where much of the Menlo Park neighborhood dates from the 1890s to 1910s, and Downtown east of Stone Avenue is nearly intact 1910s and 1920s, let alone the adobe-dominant late 19th century architecture of Barrio Nuevo.

Even with the historic touches, there will be no doubt that the Luis G. Gutierrez Bridge is a 21st century structure.

The bridge will be Tucson’s most striking automotive bridge and the third iconic Downtown bridge erected this century, along with the Rattlesnake and Basket bridges that primarily serve bicyclists.

It will have 8-foot-wide cantilevered sidewalks on each side that project beyond the piers that hold up the bridge. The sidewalks will be  separated from vehicles by traffic barriers with benches built into the pedestrian side.

Crews are smoothing the freshly poured sidewalk concrete on the Luis G. Gutierrez Bridge.

5-foot-wide bicycle lanes will go each way, and cars and streetcar tracks will share the single 12-foot-wide lane going each direction.

The six green shade canopies above each sidewalk will appear as ship’s sails, 8 feet wide and 10 feet above the sidewalk at one end and tapering down to a near point over its 75-foot upward journey ending 23 feet higher than the sidewalk,

The canopies will be perforated with small cottonwood leaf patterns, and at each base will be a cut-out of a historic image such as a propeller or railroad spike that will project onto the sidewalk below.

On the sidewalk below each canopy, a historic image will be sandblasted, such as a streetcar or the Phoenix Mars Lander.

All the artwork was a collaboration between artist, designers, residents in the Menlo Park, Barrio Sin Nombre and Kroeger Lane neighborhoods, city leaders and the Tucson-Pima Arts Council.