The Gerald Desmond Bridge Replacement Project was finally completed on Oct. 5, the first day of a new and better-in-every way to drive between Long Beach and Terminal Island.
Well, maybe not every way. While the replacement bridge is taller, wider, easier to drive and will accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians, it lacks one feature that’s been prominent on the Gerald Desmond Bridge since it opened in 1968 — a name.
The official name for the bridge will be decided by the state legislature. Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell said he will introduce a bill on its name after a “community conversation.”
The new bridge began construction in 2013, and was originally scheduled to open in late 2019. A series of delays prevented this.
Production on the main span of the bridge began in April 2018, which involved lifting bolted steel flooring and attaching steel cables to the towers. The last major beam was attached nearly two years later, in April 2020.
As previously reported by Random Lengths News, the bridge was originally budgeted to cost $1 billion, but changes to the design led to it costing $1.467 billion.
Hilary Norton, chairwoman of the California Transportation Commission, said that the new bridge is engineered to be one of the most earthquake resilient bridges in the country.
“The bridge will bend, not break,” Norton said. “As I tour this bridge I can see how this massive structure will ride out a major earthquake with minimum impact.”
The bridge’s earthquake resilience is one reason for its substantial budget. A directive from the port and the California Department of Transportation called for the bridge’s towers to be enhanced to better survive an earthquake. In 2015, the Long Beach Harbor Commission voted to increase the project’s budget by $204 million for these enhancements, which also delayed the bridge’s completion.
The original was built in 1968, and while it still works, its upkeep has become too costly to be practical, Norton said.
The new bridge is an extension of Interstate 710 and is mainly designed to facilitate traffic to and from the Port of Long Beach.
“What’s really, really important is what this bridge is actually going to do,” said Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia at the re-opening ceremony on Oct. 2. “Not only does it connect Long Beach to Los Angeles, but it connects our port and the world to each other.”
Garcia said the bridge will be an icon for the City of Long Beach. It is California’s first cable-stayed bridge — that means it has two towers that support the bridge deck — and its distinctive design will be dramatically lighted at night.
Thousands of workers, engineers and port staff were involved in the design, engineering and construction of the new bridge, said Eleni Kounalakis, lieutenant governor of California.
The bridge was built using a project labor agreement, ensuring thousands of local jobs and apprenticeship opportunities, O’Donnell said.
It was financed using a combination of federal highway funds; state and county transportation funds; and from revenue the port collected from ships that come into its harbor, said Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn. CalTrans, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and LA Metro provided funding as well.
To build the new bridge, the Port of Long Beach took on the responsibility of clearing the right of way, said Al Moro, former acting executive director and chief harbor engineer for the port. This means clearing the area where the bridge would be built. There were lots of oil wells that had to be removed.
To lay the foundation for the bridge, the builders had to build cast-in-drilled shaft piles, said Doug Thiessen, former managing director at the Port of Long Beach. They are solid steel poles that they placed underground, some as deep as 200 feet.
“There were so many of these,” Thiessen said. “We found out the complexity of these things, and to make those things work for seismic design loads, it was incredibly challenging.”
The builders used 350 of the steel piles, and the success of the project early on hinged on their ability to drill the holes for them and place them accurately, as this is the foundation that the bridge sits on, said Zeph Varley, senior construction engineer.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said the bridge is an important way to strengthen and speed up the transport of goods from the ports.
“It will help ease commutes along the South Bay, strengthen our economy, and it will benefit the trucks coming to and from the Port of LA too,” Garcetti said.
Rep. Alan Lowenthal said the new bridge will last 100 years.
When the original bridge opened in 1968, the cargo ships coming to the port of Long Beach were one-sixth the size of modern cargo ships.
The old bridge is too low to accommodate some of the taller cargo ships that enter the port. However, building another bridge next to it does not solve this problem, so the original bridge is scheduled for demolition. The projected costs for the demolition also increased the project’s budget.
The original bridge had outlived its capacity, as it was not designed to handle 18 million vehicle trips a year, Norton said. However, the new bridge was designed to accommodate this many trips.
“The old bridge was literally crumbling, and the Port of Long Beach installed a diaper-like device to prevent concrete from falling into the shipping channel,” said David Kim, secretary of the California State Transportation Agency.