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When the Gerald Desmond Bridge replacement project completes in 2016, it is anticipated to look like this.

Building Bridges, Raising Economies
by  Judy Gish
Issue Date: 04/2013

Catching up with the Gerald Desmond Bridge Replacement Project

(Please click on photos to read captions)

On January 8, 2013, the world got its first look at the height of the new Gerald Desmond Bridge towers.

In a dramatic display at a Port of Long Beach groundbreaking ceremony, two helicopters hovered 515 feet above the crowd to illustrate just how tall the bridge will be. The twin 50-story high towers will make the new bridge one of the tallest cable-stayed bridges in the U.S. and the first of its kind in California. The new bridge will raise the clearance over the channel from 155 feet to 200 feet, allowing the world's largest ships and their descendents for generations to come to enter the Port's inner harbor, something the current bridge cannot accommodate.

The $1 billion bridge replacement project is a joint effort of Caltrans and the Port of Long Beach with funding also from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. 

Speaking at the ceremony, Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty said that “the new bridge will be a monument to the power of partnerships. Everyone stepped up to the plate to make this a reality – the state, the port, the federal government, the local transportation agency and the construction industry.”

Caltrans is contributing $500,000, with $300,000 coming from the U.S. Department of Transportation, $114 million from the Port of Long Beach and $28 million from the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. 

This project will ease congestion and improve safety on a structure that currently has nearly 70,000 vehicles a day going over it and about 15 percent of the nation’s waterborne cargo traveling under it, he added.  

“Caltrans is particularly interested in another element of this project—the fact that it’s being designed and constructed simultaneously,” Dougherty said, adding that the design-build construction method allows for greater flexibility and will speed up the construction timeline. 

The Gerald Desmond Bridge, which opened in 1968, provides a critical link from Terminal Island and the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles to downtown Long Beach and the Long Beach Freeway (I-710).

Other features of the new bridge include a bike path, pedestrian path and scenic observation decks 200 feet above the water. Construction costs will be about $650 million, with site preparation, demolition of the existing bridge and other aspects bringing the total project to $1 billion.

Although there is a lot of activity occurring at the bridge construction site now, it is largely still preliminary, involving the capping or relocating  of nearly three dozen active oil production wells and moving related infrastructure and utilities to make way for the new bridge.  This has been a massive, two-year effort as the Port of Long Beach is located directly over the Wilmington Oil Field, one of the nation’s largest at the time of its discovery in the 1930s. 

Meanwhile, the design/build contractor SFI (a consortium of Shimmick Construction Co., Inc., FCC Construction S.A. and Impregilo S.p.A.) has been conducting pile tests in the areas of the west and east approaches, among other testing.  The nearly 8,000-foot new bridge will include at least 300 below-ground piles that will support more than 70 columns holding up the two approaches.  

Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty speaks at the groundbreaking ceremony on January 8, 2013. The current Gerald Desmond Bridge. A guest at the groundbeaking ceremony records the helicopters illustrating the future height of the bridge towers. The bridge wears a diaper to protect against concrete falling from the aging structure.