New Gerald Desmond Bridge An Upgrade Of National Significance

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The installation of the five-foot diameter steel casing (left) signalled the ceremonial start to construction of the new Gerald Desmond Bridge. Photos by Sarah Bennett. Renderings courtesy of the Port of Long Beach.

As big rigs and commuter vehicles rumbled on the Gerald Desmond Bridge overhead, the Port of Long Beach broke ground yesterday morning on its replacement—a $1 billion project that will swap the 40 year-old arch bridge with a contemporary cable-stayed that promises to improve traffic flow along a critical trade link and provide another iconic structure to Long Beach’s waterfront.

With funding provided by a mix of county, state and national sources—representatives of which were all in attendance—the new bridge is about more than just upgrading an old bridge to a newer model, it’s about organizations at all levels of government working together and investing in the economic future of the region and beyond.

“Our port is a busy one and we serve as a vital component of this nation’s infrastructure,” Port of Long Beach Executive Director Chris Lytle said. “This bridge is not just important to the Port and the city—it’s a structure of national significance.”

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The new bridge will be built adjacent to the current bridge, stretching nearly a mile from Downtown Long Beach to Terminal Island and connecting the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach with both rail lines and the crucial 710 corridor. Construction is expected to take anywhere from four to five years, during which the current bridge—which sees nearly 15 percent of the nation’s waterborne cargo trucked over it annually—will remain in use.

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Boasting two 500-feet high twin towers, three lanes on each side, observation turnouts and bike and pedestrian paths, the new Gerald Desmond Bridge will create thousands of jobs as it is built to be one of the tallest cable-stayed bridges in the United States and the first of its kind in California. The bridge is also one of a few projects in the state to utilize an innovative new method called “design-build” which cuts down on costs by combining design and construction into one contract.

But the most promising feature for the bridge’s long-term economic impact is its impressive clearance over the channel that runs between the Port of Long Beach’s middle and inner harbors. By raising the height of the roadway from 155 feet to 200 feet, the new generation of extra-large cargo ships—which are already calling at some of the Port’s outer piers—will be able to enter the deep waters of the inner harbor.  

“The way to keep the port competitive is by enabling us to handle a greater amount of cargo at greater velocities.” said Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster, who played a role in the new bridge’s use of design-build format, which he believes will help the project finish ahead of schedule. “This bridge is part of a $4 billion program by the Port of Long Beach to revitalize these ports to make them the port that [shipping companies] want to bring [their] cargo to.”

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From left to right: Port of Long Beach Executive Director Chris Lytle, Port of Long Beach Harbor Commissioners President Susan Wise, State Assemblymember Bonnie Lowenthal, Lakewood Mayor and Metro Board of Directors Member Diane DuBois, Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster, Congresswoman Janice Hahn, Federal Highway Administration Administrator Victor Mendez and CalTrans Director Malcolm Dougherty.

After nearly a decade of discussions and several years of serious planning, the wider, stronger and taller Gerald Desmond Bridge was eventually made possible by an impressive combination of funding partners. Advertised as a joint effort between the Port of Long Beach and the California Department of Transportation (together, the two entities contributed $614 million of the project’s $1 billion), additional money came from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.  

“Partnerships have been a recurring theme today,” CalTrans Director Malcolm Dougherty said shortly before a five-foot diameter steel casing was installed in the ground, ceremonially signaling the official start of the new bridge’s construction. “This bridge will be a monument to the power of partnerships and the ingenuity of California. Everyone stepped up to the plate to keep California moving.”

For more information on the Gerald Desmond Bridge replacement project, go to newgdbridge.com. To keep up with construction progress and updates, follow @newgdbridge on Twitter.

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Sarah Bennett is a contributor to the Hi-lo and the editor-at-large at the Long Beach Post. She is also a professor at Santa Ana College where she was once a student before transferring to USC to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Sarah has written about music, art, food and beer in local, national and international publications for over a decade. An L.A. native and longtime resident of Long Beach, she is the co-founder of Long Beach Zine Fest and managing editor at theLAnd magazine. She never sleeps.
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