Tuesday, March 15, 2011

New Long Beach Port Bridge Will Include Bike and Ped Paths

The aging Gerald Desmond Bridge is a major ingress and egress point for cargo truck traffic at the Port of Long Beach with more than 15 percent of the nation's cargo moving over it annually. Its replacement, which will provide greater vehicle capacity and increase clearance to allow larger vessels to transit underneath, will also include a concession to the local communities – a bike and pedestrian path allowing the public to cross the proposed structure.

Earlier this year, concerns had been raised by some local elected officials and the biking community that such a path would not be included in the estimated $950 million bridge replacement project.

Port commissioners were told Monday by port staff that the bike/pedestrian path is included in the request for proposal (RFP) that will go out to the four firms selected earlier this month by the port to bid on the bridge project. Port staff had previously assured the Long Beach City Council that the bike/pedestrian path would be part of the project, and port Managing Director of Environmental Affairs and Planning Robert Kanter told the commission that this commitment remains part of the bridge project.

"The [RFP] package will require bids to include a Class 1 bike path and pedestrian path in the solicitation – these are mandatory requirements and must be included for the [bidders] to be considered responsive," Kanter said.

A Class 1 bike/pedestrian path, according to Kanter, is an area for bicycles and pedestrians that is separated from vehicle traffic on the bridge.

In response to repeated questions from the commissioners, Kanter said that the bike/pedestrian path will be included in the estimated $950 million cost of the replacement bridge, which is being funded by a mix of federal, state, regional and local dollars.

The port and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) are now finalizing the first draft of the bridge project RFP that will go out to the four identified bidders in late April or early May, according to Kanter.

Following a comment period where the bidders can offer input to and/or seek clarification of the bidding package, the port and Caltrans will develop a final draft of the RFP by September Kanter said.

Final bids from the four firms are expected to be opened by the port sometime in November or December.

Although the bike.pedestrian path will not add any additional cost to the total $950 million estimate of the bridge project, the port's Managing Director of Engineering Doug Thiessen warned about the repercussions of further additions to the project.
"We have made [the bike/pedestrian path] part of the project, but, there could be a great temptation to add additional scope of work to the project," Thiessen told the commissioners, "As we progress down the road, we must resist this temptation or the budget [for the bridge project] will continue to grow."

Built in 1968, the current Gerald Desmond Bridge is outdated and, while deemed safe for commuters to travel on, the bridge suffers from a low "sufficiency rating" from Caltrans.

With millions of car, truck and port cargo trips annually crossing the bridge, the traffic now exceeds its operational capacity, posing safety, congestion and maintenance challenges.

In addition to the bike/pedestrian path, the new bridge will not only provide vehicle emergency lanes, but also three main traffic lanes in each direction, and a reduction in the bridge's steep grades to improve traffic flow and safety. The replacement will also have a higher span over the port's main channel, allowing the newest generation of cargo ships to access the port's back channels.