Construction isn’t expected to start until 2025, but Caltrans officials are asking for community input now as they prepare for a project that will close or reduce lanes on the Vincent Thomas Bridge for nine months or longer.

The historic 6,000-foot span is the only way to access Terminal Island and the Port of Long Beach from the west, and the 60-year-old suspension bridge needs a full deck replacement.

The potential detour routes would have the biggest impact on Wilmington, but some traffic caused by the construction would likely spill into Long Beach.

A map showing detour routes. Courtesy of Caltrans.

Three options for the project are on the table and the feedback Caltrans is gathering now will help officials choose one.

  • Closing the entire four-lane bridge for nine to 12 months and working day and night until it’s done
  • Keeping one lane open during the day, with full closure on nights and weekends for one and a half to two years
  • Opening one lane in each direction with night and weekend closures for two to two and a half years
  • The latter two choices could also be done without the 55-hour weekend closures, adding about six months to the project

Jason Roach, the senior environmental planner for the project, said Caltrans officials hope to avoid or minimize disruption to port-adjacent communities during the work.

“Because we have this extended construction period that we’re expecting, we’re really concerned about the detour routes and all the traffic that looks like it’s going to be routed through the community of Wilmington,” Roach said.

While some lanes on surrounding roads were closed during the seven-year Gerald Desmond Bridge replacement project, the bridge itself remained open during construction, since a whole new bridge was built next to the old one.

The Vincent Thomas Bridge is being overhauled rather than replaced because it’s registered as a state historical resource, and while the bridge that replaced Gerald Desmond was raised to give clearance to larger ships, Vincent Thomas is already 30 feet higher than the old Gerald Desmond, according to Caltrans officials.

Also, it cost taxpayers $1.56 billion to build the totally new replacement bridge for the Gerald Desmond, whereas putting down a new deck and bringing the railings, center median and other features up to current safety standards for the Vincent Thomas is projected to cost about $706 million.

About 53,000 vehicles a day use the Vincent Thomas Bridge, based on 2019 data, Roach said—and more than 4,600 of those vehicles are heavy trucks.

The prospect of monthslong closures has truck drivers “anxiously awaiting more details,” Harbor Trucking Association CEO Matt Schrap said.

Shutting down the bridge for a year “would be extremely detrimental, especially to all the surrounding surface streets, because all that traffic has to go somewhere,” Schrap said.

He’s hoping to see regional coordination and thorough contingency plans for surrounding cities to handle the detour traffic, he said, adding, “I think that any disruption is met with a tremendous amount of concern.”

The Port of Long Beach’s managing director of engineering, Sean Gamette, said in a statement, “We are coordinating closely with the Port of Los Angeles and Caltrans to ensure this important work is accomplished while minimizing impacts to traffic. Caltrans is assessing impacts and, with the support of the two ports, developing mitigation measures.”

So far, Caltrans has held one virtual and one in-person meeting to hear from the public, and it is accepting comments on the project through May 26. (Click here for more details on the project and how to submit comments.)

Roach said there will be another public meeting near the end of the year once a draft environmental report is ready; in the meantime, Caltrans officials will meet with elected officials and neighborhood groups in nearby communities.

“It’s going to take a while to get there and there’s going to be some inconvenience, and there’s no way around that,” he said.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the attribution of a quote, which was from Sean Gamette. It has also been updated to clarify the cost comparison between the Gerald Desmond replacement bridge and the construction work on the Vincent Thomas Bridge.