Biden visit

Mayor Robert Garcia makes a point Thursday to former Vice President Joe Biden while Port of Long Beach executive director Mario Cordero listens. The presidential candidate toured the under-construction replacement bridge for the Gerald Desmond Bridge.

Long Beach is slowly building the country’s future.

At least, that’s the way former Vice President Joe Biden sees it.

During a tour of the Gerald Desmond Bridge Replacement Project on Thursday afternoon, Jan. 9, with Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia and other officials, Biden said the project — which will ease congestion and allow larger ships to pass underneath it compared to the current bridge — is “critically, critically important.”

The local visit from the leading Democratic contender for the White House came hours after Garcia and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti both announced their endorsements of Biden, less than two months before the California primary. Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell and state Sen. Lena Gonzalez, both Long Beach Democrats, also attended the tour.

“We’re very happy to have the vice president here,” Garcia said during the tour. “He is ready to lead our country on Day One, and we’re just grateful for his leadership here.”

The $1.5 billion Gerald Desmond Bridge Replacement Project is nearly complete, decades after the idea was first introduced.

The bridge, like its soon-to-be-defunct predecessor, will connect Long Beach and its port with the Port of Los Angeles and the Vincent Thomas Bridge. Once open, it will relieve some of the congestion that plagues the current bridge, which sees 15% of all imports to the U.S. travel across it and some 60,000 vehicle trips per day.

The new bridge will offer 205 feet of clearance — 50 feet more than the current bridge. The gap between water and the bottom of the bridge will be the biggest in the country, allowing the larger ships of the future to pass under it. It will also add one more lane of traffic in each direction than the current bridge and bear the title of the second-tallest cable-stayed bridge in the country.

Biden, who toured the new bridge for about 20 minutes and briefly met with some construction workers, likened the feat to the Panama Canal expansion project, which added wider locks to accommodate the vessels of the future.

The heightened distance between the water and the new Gerald Desmond Bridge promises to have the same effect.

“Here’s the deal: this is the future,” Biden said. “The future of the country is overseas trade.”

Pointing to the huge share of the nation’s economy that’s “floating out there in the ocean somewhere,” Biden said investing in trade infrastructure has a widespread impact throughout the United States.

“This brings an awful lot of money off the sidelines, an awful lot of investment from the private sector,” he said. “This is of serious consequence.”

Although Biden didn’t mention the current presidential administration during his visit, his focus on the importance of trade signaled his intent to end the current trade war with China if elected.

Over the last year-and-a-half, the Long Beach and Los Angeles ports have grappled with the fallout of that trade war. Since July 2018, the United States has imposed tariffs on $360 billion worth of Chinese imports and the Asian economic power has retaliated with taxes on $110 billion of U.S. goods.

Biden, for his part, sparred in October with his successor, Vice President Mike Pence, over the current White House’s trade policy, blasting what Biden called “Trump’s irresponsible trade wars.”

Garcia, during Thursday’s visit, was proud to show off the ambitious undertaking.

The mayor was “grateful to show him this amazing facility and this port,” Garcia said, “which is the second largest container port in the United States.”

Biden, meanwhile, was also scheduled to attend a private fundraiser Thursday night in Irvine with former U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, and Rep. Lou Correa, D-Anaheim, among others.

Californians will go to the polls for the Democratic primary on March 3, super Tuesday — when about a dozen states will also vote.

City editor Chris Haire and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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