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News Details
Port of Long Beach Construction Today

Article by Brian Salgado

Any time a port authority intends to replace a structure as vital and massive as the Gerald Desmond Bridge in California, the replacement not only must meet expectations, but oftentimes, it must exceed them to win over the court of public opinion. The Port of Long Beach’s master plan for the Gerald Desmond Bridge offers just that sort of vision for what next iteration of this major artery should be.

The Gerald Desmond Bridge serves as a vital link for the nationwide trade system and as a major commuter corridor. The bridge was built in the 1960s, and it was not designed to handle today’s traffic volumes and continues to deteriorate.

Today, the Port of Long Beach is building a replacement bridge to ensure the safety of commuters and truck drivers while protecting Southern California’s role as a trading hub. The $1 billion project is expected to last five years and generate an average of 4,000 jobs a year.

The replacement bridge will be constructed as a three-span, cable-stayed structure that will stretch for 2,000 feet. From abutment to abutment, the bridge will span 8,298 feet.

The deck will span 168 feet with six traffic lanes, four full-width shoulders and a 29-foot median. The steel composite superstructure with a precast concrete deck will rise to a concrete tower with shear link seismic resistance system.

“This is dramatically increasing the capacity which will help the management of traffic in the port quite a bit,” says Al Moro, chief harbor engineer for the Port of Long Beach.

Since the new bridge will be almost 10,000 feet long, the incline has been decreased significantly. This will make it more fuel efficient to traverse the bridge than in the past.

“Trucks had to shift to a lower gear, so we made it with a milder incline so trucks could travel at lower speeds and not have to shift to a lower gear,” Moro says.

The replacement bridge also has been reconfigured in relation to the interchange on the western end. This version will touch down in the area along State Route 47, which carries traffic into this arterial feed.

In addition to increased width for car and truck traffic, the new bridge will also be higher – 205 feet above the water compared to 155 feet today for the Desmond Bridge. This will allow today’s larger cargo ships to transit terminals via the back channel.

The new bridge also will feature a bike lane and a pedestrian path with an observatory deck. The deck offers pedestrians and cyclists the opportunity to look out across Long Beach and its skyline. “It’s quite an attractive feature that ties this bike lane into our other bike systems,” Moro says.

The bridge will be delivered as a design/build project by a joint venture between Shimmick Construction Co., FCC Construction S.A. and Inpregilio S.p.A. (SFI). The existing bridge will remain in operation until the new bridge is completed.

The Middle Ground

The Port of Long Beach also is constructing Middle Harbor, a nine-year, $1.2 billion project that will upgrade wharfs, water access and storage areas by combining two aging container terminals into one of the world’s most technologically advanced and greenest facilities. The port says the project will double capacity and additional trade flowing the new terminal will create 14,000 permanent new jobs in Southern California while cutting pollution in half.

Moro says this project is necessary because of the changing nature of the port business. Today’s vessels are larger and require more land mass to dock. The port industry classifies vessels by their number of TEUs, or twenty-foot equivalent units, which indicates a 20-foot one standard ocean container. As recently as the 1980s, most callers to the Port of Long Beach were 5,500-TEU vessels, Moro says. Today, vessels carrying 12,000 and 13,000 TEUs visit the port.

For instance, new megaships up to 13,000 container units are visiting the Port of Long Beach, and the port needs to continue to modernize to compete as ships get larger and larger.

Also, vessels known as “Post-Panamax” – 5,500 TEUs or more – are too big to fit through today’s Panama Canal. Once the Panama Canal is widened in 2015, the largest ships that it will handle will be 12,000 TEUs.

“With the evolution of the port and modernization of vessels as ships are getting much, much bigger, they need larger land masses,” Moro maintains.

“You can’t have 180 acres taking on that much cargo,” Moro says. “You’re at critical mass with all this cargo coming, and it slows down the offloading when you handle so much.”

The new terminal complex will feature 300 acres when fully completed to accept vessels and the related wharf structure to take on the tonnage of these vessels. Middle Harbor also will feature an on-dock rail system and a modern gate.

The Middle Harbor Project is a phased, multi-year development. In 2015, tenant Long Beach Container Terminal will shift from its current 90-acre home at the south end of the terminal to the newly completed north end and start receiving vessels there. Construction on the southern half of the terminal will continue until the entire 304-acre facility is completed by 2020.