Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Long Beach Port Readies Push for New Bridge

The Port of Long Beach is set to announce this week a new push to replace the nearly 45-year-old Gerald Desmond Bridge, a major ingress/egress choke-point to many of the port's busiest container facilities.

The new proposal is expected to unveil a $1.1 billion cable-stayed replacement for the aging bridge, a design similar to one proposed nearly five years ago when the port last launched a serious replacement effort. That effort, with a then-estimated cost of about $850 million, failed to raise the necessary government funds to get the project out of the early design stages. 

Port of Long Beach officials now claim to have raised about half of the needed funds to complete the new $1.1 billion bridge and have said they will seek the remaining funds from local, state and federal sources.

The port's first major study to replace the bridge, conducted in the late 1990s, estimated that a replacement would have cost $350 million at that time. 

According to port officials, the current four-lane bridge, which handles on average more than 17,000 trucks and 50,000 automobiles each day, is too narrow to handle the projected future volume of truck traffic from the Long Beach port and east-bound traffic from the neighboring Los Angeles port.

The current bridge is also too low to allow the largest of container vessels to transit under the structure to back channel port facilities.

The new bridge design is expected to be 45 feet higher than the current bridge and feature six traffic lanes with an emergency lane in each direction.

An additional concern is that the steel and concrete bridge, originally designed for a 30 to 40 year life span, is not holding up well – consistently ranking in the bottom of the state's bridge inspection lists. In recent years the underside of the bridge's road deck began spalling such large pieces of concrete that the port was forced to place a giant net--known by many in the port as "the diaper"--to prevent damage and injury to people and vehicles underneath. 

Once completed, the new bridge is expected to be turned over to the California Department of Transportation and become part of the state highway system.