As two police helicopters hovered 500 feet into the air, officials from just about every level of the public sector applauded. The visual demonstration signaled the beginning of the construction phase of the $1 billion Gerald Desmond Bridge replacement.
“Today, we will begin construction on a bridge project that will improve our city, the region and the United States in many, many ways,” Port of Long Beach Executive Director J. Christopher Lytle said, noting the theme of the day was Building Bridges and Raising Economies. “This bridge is not just important to the port and the city — it’s a structure of national significance. It will be an iconic structure.”
The new Gerald Desmond Bridge will be the second tallest cable-stayed bridge in America, with two towers reaching 500 feet. It will be 2,000 feet long and there will be 200 feet of space below it to accommodate larger cargo ships.
The current bridge is considered a true arch bridge. The new one, which will be built slightly to the north of the old one so not to disrupt traffic too much, will have cables that are holding it up for a more dramatic look.
The new bridge project is a joint effort by the Port of Long Beach, California Department of Transportation, U.S. Department of Transportation and Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority — with help from various local elected officials. It is a major piece of the $4.5 billion that is being spent during the next 10 years to renovate and modernize the port.
“I simply have to say to all of you, thank you for working together,” said Victor Mendez, administrator of the Federal Highway Administration. “From my experience, you cannot accomplish these types of big things if you try to go it alone.”
The original Gerald Desmond Bridge opened in 1968, and has recently began to see great deterioration — culminating with the installation of nets, or diapers as many officials called them, to catch infrastructure falling from it.
The new design will add an additional traffic lane to each side, dedicated paths for cyclists and pedestrians and a special observation deck section. The bridge also will be slightly less steep, which should help with truck traffic moving more quickly across it, officials added.
“It combines and overlaps the design and construction to do some of the work coincidentally or simultaneously,” Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty said, noting the unique design-build strategy for construction. “It gives us much greater flexibility, expedited construction timelines and incorporates private sector ingenuity with public sector know-how.”
For the next three years, the project will average about 3,000 jobs created annually and it is expected to generate a regional economic activity of about $2 billion.
The early phase of construction will be focusing on relocating abandoned oil wells, reconfiguring the ground and starting tests of pylons and borings.
“The fact is, most commuters won’t be majorly impacted because the new bridge is building to the side of the current one,” said John Pope, port spokesman. “We should be able to keep those impacts to a minimum.”
There will be dedicated Facebook and Twitter feeds for the bridge construction and there already is a website at www.newgdbridge.com. More noticeable construction is coming in the summer of this year and officials said the new bridge is slated for completion near the summer of 2016.
“This is really the bridge to the future,” Mayor Bob Foster said. “This is absolutely a vital link of commerce.”