Long Beach was awarded a $30 million federal grant this week that could help the city realign Shoreline Drive in Downtown and add acres of usable green space to Cesar Chavez Park, which currently is separated by northbound lanes that feed into the 710 Freeway.

The grant was announced by Rep. Robert Garcia’s office, which said Garcia had secured the grant from the United States Department of Transportation’s new pilot program aimed at reconnecting communities.

The grant is part of a $1 billion pot that Congress set aside in the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which created the new Reconnecting Communities Pilot program. The funding is intended to let local agencies fix or remove facilities that limit economic development, connectivity or access to green space, like the current configuration of Shoreline Drive does.

“This is an enormous opportunity to reconnect and create new green space while building a new gateway into Downtown and West Long Beach,” Garcia said in a statement.

The project will cost $60 million overall, and the $30 million grant will go toward the demolition of the existing northbound lane of Shoreline Drive, rerouting traffic, the removal of old landscaping and the relocation of utilities. It will also provide partial funding for the actual realignment of Shoreline.

The western portion of Shoreline is expected to be widened to allow for two-way traffic between Ocean Boulevard and Seventh Street.

Vehicles merge onto the 710 Freeway from Downtown Long Beach and the port complex on Shoreline Drive in Long Beach Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

Realigning the street has been a long-planned project for the city that dates back to the early 2000s, when city leaders and the community began discussing a master plan to connect Drake Park and Chavez Park, which sit on opposite sides of the Sixth Street exit.

But one of the largest pieces of that realignment plan, the construction of a new Shoemaker Bridge, was put on hold after plans to widen the 710 Freeway died last year.

Two of the leading factors in killing the 710 Freeway widening project were the Biden administration’s stance against inflicting more harm on communities through transportation projects and its requirement for a more extensive environmental review of the project’s potential emissions production before it could move forward.

Some of the ancillary improvements that had already passed environmental review, like new sound walls along the 710 Freeway and the Shoemaker Bridge, can move forward, but they would have to find funding outside of Los Angeles County Metro and CalTrans, the two entities that were funding the 710 project.

The cost of the new Shoemaker Bridge was estimated last year to be around $350 million.

Public Works Director Eric Lopez said last year that he’s hopeful the city can leverage the 2028 Olympics, which will have some events in Long Beach, to get more funding to the city for critical projects like the Shoemaker Bridge, something that visitors to the city will have to cross to see the games.

Before and after renderings show the impacts of the Shoemaker Bridge replacement and Shoreline Drive realignment projects. Courtesy of the city of Long Beach.

The new bridge would move access to the 710 away from Sixth Street and onto Seventh Street. Seventh Street and the newly aligned Shoreline Drive would meet at a roundabout at the eastern end of the new Shoemaker Bridge.

The planned rollout of the bridge project and the realignment of Shoreline, though, is complicated.

Joy Contreras, a spokesperson for the city’s Public Works Department, said the plan is to begin construction on Shoreline sometime in 2025 or 2026 with the hope that funding for the bridge will materialize between now and then.

Shoreline would be realigned and lead into construction on the bridge in what would be a “multi-year effort” where traffic would be diverted. Existing entrances to the 710 from Ocean Boulevard and Third Street would be eliminated, and a new bike lane connecting Seventh Street to the Los Angeles River trail would be created.

“It’s too soon to tell how long of an inconvenience there will be, but luckily the benefits will outweigh the temporary inconvenience,” Contreras said, adding that the goal is to have both completed before the summer of 2028.

Contreras said the city is actively looking for the funding necessary to complete a multitude of projects along the river, but it’s hopeful that the Olympics can help bring in more money from federal and state agencies.

“If Long Beach is on the map for such an international event, we need to really push for all the funding requests that we can for this city and look at the aging infrastructure we have,” Contreras said. “We know this area of Long Beach in particular has certainly been waiting a long time for more green space.”

Downtown is one of the areas in the city that lacks green open space, and the realignment project could result in Chavez Park essentially doubling in size. The reconfigured roadways could also finally allow the merging of Drake and Chavez Parks, if funding is secured by the city.

As Metro kills widening project, Long Beach will move forward with 710 improvements 

Drake, Chavez parks remain unfinished as funding to connect them eludes city 

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.