Tuesday, April 19, 2011

California State Treasurer Warns on Long Beach Bridge Funds

California State Treasurer Bill Lockyer told maritime industry representatives last week that the California budget situation could impact a major bridge replacement project underway at the Port of Long Beach.

Lockyear, appearing as the keynote speaker at a Pacific Merchant Shipping Association annual luncheon in Long Beach, said that until the state budget for the coming fiscal year is approved by the state legislature, he can not issue bonds to cover the more than $250 million in state funds promised for the Gerald Desmond Bridge replacement project in Long Beach. Democrats and Republicans in the state legislature, like many state governments, have been locked in a tough budget battle stalemate on how to address serious budget revenue shortfalls and growing deficits.

Lockyear said that until the budget is approved, which is required under the state constitution by June 15, projects like the Gerald Desmond Bridge will remain on what he described as the state's "wish list" of projects to fund.

Already in preliminary stages of construction, the $950 million bridge replacement project is considered the largest and most critical goods movement infrastructure project under way in Southern California. With an estimated 15 percent of the nation's transpacific trade traveling over the bridge annually, the replacement has also been deemed a project of "national significance."

The project is being funded by a mix of federal, state, regional and port funds. According to port officials, the state funds were anticipated to be used in early stages of the project and any lengthy delay in accessing these funds could create problems in the construction schedule. Close to $100 million, mainly in port funds, has already been spent over the past decade on development and preparatory construction for the project. The contract for the major construction phase of the new bridge is currently out to bid and expected to be awarded by the end of the year, with construction anticipated to begin sometime in 2012.

Built in 1968, the current Gerald Desmond Bridge is outdated and, while deemed safe for commuters to travel on, the bridge currently suffers from a low "sufficiency rating" from the California Department of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

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. It is estimated that.

The new cable-stayed replacement bridge will not only provide emergency lanes, but also three main traffic lanes in each direction, and a reduction in the current 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.

“This new bridge will relieve traffic congestion and improve goods movement in the nation’s two busiest ports,” California Department of Transportation Director Cindy McKim said in March.

Once construction begins, the project is expected to generate 4,000 jobs a year during the estimated five years of construction, according to the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation.