Thursday, November 4, 2010

Key SoCal Bridge Replacement Project Gets Final Go Ahead

After nearly ten years of planning, development and scraping together numerous funding sources to replace an aging and under-capacity bridge serving as a key arterial roadway for Southern California port cargo, officials at the Port of Long Beach received the final go ahead Wednesday from government officials to begin the bridge replacement project.

Members of the California Transportation Commission approved the funding and building plans for the $950 million Gerald Desmond Bridge Replacement Project, clearing the way for the port and Caltrans to solicit bids for the design and construction of the new bridge.

The CTC's unanimous approval, the final governmental approval needed to start the project, authorizes a design-build contracting process that will accelerate the start of construction. The port plans to issue a solicitation for design-build firms that can handle the project as soon as Friday. Port officials estimate that actual construction could begin as early as 2012. Preliminary estimates indicate that the project will take five years to complete.

“The Transportation Commission’s approval is a major milestone for this project,” said Nick Sramek, President of the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners. “It allows us to embark upon one of the biggest construction projects in the state and to replace an obsolete bridge with a new one built to handle the traffic and cargo needs of the region.”

The port began working to replace the bridge nearly a decade ago, but a lack of funding sources has stalled the project several times.

The current funding package put together by the port includes: $500 million from California state highway and transportation bond funds; $3400 million from federal sources; $114 million from the port; and, #28 million from Los Angeles County.

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 existing 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 ingress and 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 – a situation that has led to more frequent and costly repairs.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Workers Union Locals 13, 63 and 94, which provide labor for the Southern California ports, and the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, which represents roughly 90 percent of the shipping and terminal operator firms on the West Coast, lobbied the CTC to approve the bridge project.

"Replacing the bridge is critical to maintaining California’s dominant position in international trade and keeping the San Pedro Bay ports competitive with container ports throughout North America," the groups said in a joint letter to the CTC. "A new bridge will ensure that our ports can both accommodate the newer, cleaner and larger container vessels while also accommodating more clean trucks on our roads."