Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Appeal Filed Over SoCal Ports' Bridge Replacement Project

A pair of Southern California environmental groups have asked the Long Beach City Council to overturn and reject the Gerald Desmond Bridge replacement project adopted by Port of Long Beach officials on Aug. 9.

The Coalition For A Safe Environment (CFASE) and the Long Beach Coalition For A Safe Environment (LBCFASE) filed the appeal with the City Council on Aug. 23, alleging that the $1.13 billion bridge replacement project will "seriously, negatively and irreversibly" impact the groups' members, residents and the public at large.

The appeal claims that the impacts of the project as proposed will extend to, "life, health, welfare, safety, public mobility, public transportation infrastructure, economic resources, future sustainability, quality of life, environment, global warming concerns, aquatic life, wildlife and wildlife habitats."

The two groups also allege in their appeal that the port's governing board failed to "perform due diligence in making their decision, approving the resolution, determining legal compliance, seeking expert & legal opinion, protecting the public’s interests and upholding applicable California and federal laws."

The appeal, which is unlikely to move a City Council that has expressed solid support for the project, was brought on behalf of the two groups by local environmental gadfly Jessie Marquez and the executive director of the LBCFASE, Gabrielle Weeks.

The Gerald Desmond Bridge replacement has been described as one of the port-area's most critical infrastructure needs. The new bridge will be taller, wider and safer than the current bridge, according to port officials.

The 156-foot-tall Gerald Desmond Bridge, which is named after a former City official, links the port-area Terminal Island to Long Beach proper. The 40-year-old steel and concrete structure is a main egress point for trucks into the port.

Upwards of 60,000 vehicles a day cross it's five-lane, 1,200-foot-long span over the port's main channel.

According to port officials, more than 15 percent of the nation's seaborne cargo moves over the bridge each year.

In addition to lacking adequate capacity and having insufficient height to allow the newest container vessels to pass underneath, the current bridge is deteriorating rapidly leading to more frequent and costly repair costs.

Of the total $1.13 billion in estimated costs for the replacement project, about $900 million from various sources have been earmarked, including: about $570 million from federal sources, $250 million in state funding, $29 million from Los Angeles County sources, and $55 million from port funds. According to port documents, just under $200 million in federal funds have yet to be identified.

Barring any legal actions against the project, preliminary work on the new bridge could begin within a few months, though an actual ground breaking on construction could be more than a year away. Construction is expected to take at least six years.