Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mayor Vetos Long Beach Port Bridge Replacement Funds

Long Beach Mayor Robert Foster has vetoed a $60 million line item in the Port of Long Beach fiscal year 2011 budget that could delay the start of construction of the Gerald Desmond Bridge replacement.

The $60 million item in the port budget was to have paid for the removal and relocation of a port maintenance yard that is located adjacent to the existing bridge. The yard removal is a necessary first step as it sits in the proposed path of the new bridge's eastern alignment.

While Foster vetoed the item, he left the door open for the port to return to the Long Beach City Council with a budget amendment to restore the funding. The port intends to move forward with this request as soon as possible.

While the port is operated by a semi-autonomous city department, the Long Beach City Council has final approval of the port budget and the mayor has line-item veto power over the council-approved version of the port budget.

The port has been attempting to replace the aging Gerald Desmond Bridge for nearly a decade. The bridge, originally opened in the late 1960s and serving as a major egress point for the Long Beach and neighboring Los Angeles port, is estimated to annually carry 15 percent of the nation's international trade.

In recent years, the bridge has become a serious choke point for port truck traffic. Despite expensive upgrades by the port, the bridge currently suffers from constrained capacity, a deteriorating structure, and an inadequate height to allow passage of the largest container vessels to the port's back channel areas.

The $1.1 billion bridge replacement project has been described as one of the most critical infrastructure projects currently on the drawing board in Southern California and a project of national importance. Funding for the entire replacement project will come from a combination of federal, state and local funds.