Local, state and federal officials gathered for a ceremony on Tuesday, Jan. 8 to celebrate the start of construction on the main portion of a $1-billion project to build a new bridge that Port of Long Beach officials said will be “one of the tallest cable-stayed bridges in the United States and the first of its kind in California.”
The new span is being built to replace the aging arch-truss Gerald Desmond Bridge that was built in 1968 and connects the 710 Freeway with Terminal Island in the Long Beach Harbor. During the groundbreaking, two Long Beach police helicopters hovered at 500 feet above ground level, showing those in attendance the height of the new bridge’s planned 50-story cable towers. The ceremony also included a demonstration of boring and pile driving for the new bridge supports, signifying the start of construction.
The new bridge will be an “iconic structure” that will complement the Queen Mary and the city’s skyline with a “functional and beautiful” design, said Port Executive Director J. Christopher Lytle. He said plans include adding a “first-class” bicycle and pedestrian pathway and an observation platform. “I think this will become a tourist attraction in its own right,” Lytle said. “Can you imagine the view from the top of that bridge over to Catalina Island?”
As the main thoroughfare for millions of commuters and for trucks that haul an estimated 15 percent of the nation’s waterborne cargo each day, the bridge has both regional and “national significance,” Lytle said. The bridge’s higher clearance will also enable the Port to handle “the newest generation of bigger ships, helping us keep our competitive edge as a Port,” he said.
The project, being funded by local, regional, state and federal resources, should bring an estimated 3,000 new construction jobs annually to the city “over the next several years,” Lytle said. Port officials, who anticipate the new bridge to be completed by 2017, also predict the project will generate billions of dollars in economic impact to the region.
The new bridge is being built by international joint venture SFI (consisting of Shimmick Construction Company Inc., FCC Construction S.A. and Impregilo S.p.A.) which was awarded the nearly $650-million contract last year. The new bridge is being erected next to the existing structure, which will be demolished once the new bridge is completed to not interrupt traffic during construction. Port officials said the current 44-year-old bridge is seismically outdated and presently uses netting, which Port officials call “diapers,” to catch falling debris.
During the presentation, Victor Mendez, administrator of the United States Federal Highway Administration (FHA), which has invested $675 million into the project, gave remarks about the bridge’s national importance.
“Under leadership of President Barack Obama and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood… we’re committed to making sure that these vital pieces of infrastructure are ready for the challenges of the future,” Mendez said. “That means a new bridge that will ease congestion, improve safety and keep freight moving from a very busy and important port.”
Mendez also applauded the “innovation” of using a “design-build” approach that will expedite construction. He also praised the collaboration between the Port, Los Angeles County, Caltrans and the FHA. “This is a very major investment when it comes to really getting our economy back in shape,” Mendez said.
Rep. Janice Hahn, who was recently appointed to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said building the nation’s seaports should be a “non-controversial” issue among congressional members, adding that she will continue to advocate for such projects and seek federal funding for port infrastructure.
“It’s projects like this that I will continue to champion and try to find the funding necessary to move us forward,” she said. “We need to be doing more of this. We can create jobs. We can bring our infrastructure into this century, and that makes sense.”
Although unable to attend, Rep. Alan Lowenthal, a former California state senator, said via a written statement that the State was able to secure nearly $500 million in funds to build the new bridge without having to require a toll.
State Assemblymember Bonnie Lowenthal said the project has gone through challenges since designs were first reviewed more than 10 years ago, but the final product will be a “symbol of progress” for the region, calling the new structure “a bridge to everywhere,” a phrase coined by former Long Beach Harbor Commissioner Mario Cordero.
“The Gerald Desmond Bridge will usher in a new era of shipping and transportation,” she said. “Make no mistake, it will be an icon, not just for the City of Long Beach or the San Pedro Bay seaport, but for all of California and the nation.”