Construction began Tuesday on a massive project to replace one of the region’s best-known bridges, the hard-working Gerald Desmond span at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
The $1 billion project will replace the two-lane span with a new one that has three lanes in each direction, along with a bicycle lane and pedestrian path.
The new Gerald Desmond will also be a good 50 feet higher than the existing bridge.
The 45-year-old span is not tall enough to accommodate today’s high container ships, and its narrow width – just two lanes in each direction – is easily clogged with commuter and truck traffic.
“It’s too low to let the biggest ships in the country and the world come to the Port of Long Beach,” said Al Moro, chief harbor engineer for the port.
The bridge is key to transportation and shipping in the region. It connects the Port of Long Beach to the Long Beach Freeway (SR-710), and carries 68,000 vehicles per day, Moro said.
Three-quarters of those vehicles are driven by commuters. Trucks heading to and from the ports make up the rest of the traffic, Moro said.
The California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) expects the project to take about five years.
Workers will build a new bridge alongside the old one in order to keep the area’s already sluggish traffic moving during that period, said Denis Wolcott, a spokesman for the bridge project.
The project is being built with funding from CalTrans, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Port of Long Beach and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
It is expected to generate 3,000 construction jobs per year for about four years.
The effort is part of a broader upgrade to the Long Beach port that is expected to cost $4.5 billion over the next ten years.