There is currently a new bridge being built at the Port of Long Beach, the second busiest container seaport in the United States. The busiest container seaport is just next door, it’s the Port of Los Angeles. If you would look on a map, you would consider it as one port. I didn’t know for a long time either, especially if you are not from the area.
So whats going on? The current bridge, named Gerald Desmond Bridge, is too old and not big enough for the port to expand. It would need a major overhaul to make it fit for the future, but that still doesn’t solve the problem of the ever-growing ships. Therefore a new plan devised. The bridge will be replaced with a more modern and bigger bridge to get the port ready for the future.
The first bridge over the Cerritos Channel was completed in 1968 and the western terminus was on Termina Island. It was named after Gerald Desmond who served as the City Attorney for Long Beach. Gerald Desmond died in 1964, just one year before the groundbreaking of the bridge on October 19, 1965. His son, also named Gerald, sank the final “golden” bolt. The Gerald Desmond Bridge is a through arch bridge that was projected to only carry modest traffic. Mainly workers would use the bridge to commute to their jobs at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard on Terminal Island. The Long Beach Naval Shipyard closed in 1997 and the land was converted to what is now the second busiest container seaport in the United States.
Traffic over the bridge was growing and growing every year. The bridge itself had only two lanes in each direction and three lanes at the very steep approaches on either side. With no emergency lanes, accidents and breakdowns of trucks caused major traffic impacts or even shutdowns of the bridge. The additional stress was causing pieces of concrete to fall off from the underside of the bridge. For safety reasons, a nylon mesh was installed under the bridge to capture these falling chunks of concrete.
The suspended main span of the bridge had a length of 527-foot-long (161 m) and a vertical clearance of 155 ft (47 m). This is one of the lowest clearances for a commercial seaport. Be aware that the 155 ft vertical clearance is only achieved during certain times when the tide is low enough but not to low for the ships to pass through.
With this limited vertical clearance, it’s impossible for the biggest container ships to reach the inner harbor which is separated from the middle harbor by the Gerald Desmond Bridge.
To solve all these issues, the final decision was to build a new bridge, which is even bigger than the old one.
Gerald Desmond Bridge Replacement Project
The new bridge is a cable-stayed bridge. These types of bridges became the favorite bridge for seismic active regions and as we all know, California is well known to have earthquakes. Once completed the new bridge will be the first long-span cable-stayed bridge in California and the only one in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.
Construction of the new bridge started in October 2014. Everything started with the construction of the piles which would serve as the foundation for the new bridge’s piers. Before that, relocation and/or removal of numerous old and active oil wells and utility lines was necessary before construction could start. I was involved in this project, that’s why I had the interest to come back and take the tour to see the progress of the bridge.
Construction of the new bridge passed the halfway mark in August of 2016. In December 2017 both 515 ft (157 m) tall cable support towers were completed. The current estimate for the opening of the new bridge to traffic is in later 2020, which is still showing up as 2019 on the project’s website.
Once completed, the new bridge will have a vertical clearance of 205 ft (62 m). With a span (main span and back spans) of 2,000 ft (610 m) it will be the highest deck of any cable-stayed bridge in the United States. Forty cables will be used to connect the deck to the towers. The cables holding the bridge will have up to 109 strands. If you put all strands end-to-end, they would add up to 1.7 million feet (518 km). For safety, the bridge will have state-of-the-art seismic safety features making the bridge one of the safest places to be during an earthquake.
Traffic going over the bridge will also benefit from the new bridge. Three lanes will go in each direction and two emergency shoulders in each direction will help in case of accidents or breakdowns. Even with the bridge being 50 ft taller than the old one, both approaches of the bridge will have a decreased grade thanks to longer approaches.
My personal highlight will be the bike path and pedestrian walkway which will run on the south side of the bridge. There will be observation decks along the way. The walkway over the old Gerald Desmond Bridge is already closed. Back in 2014, I was able to walk the bridge all the way. It was a grueling walk, but absolutely worth it. Unfortunately, the chain-link fence wasn’t very helpful to take good pictures. A regular railing will be installed along the walkway to prevent accidental falling from the bridge. However, according to the sources during the tour, there will be no extensive and ugly suicide prevention fence, cage or other installation. Suicide is terrible, but if someone is determined, he or she will find a way, even with the craziest of installations. Because of the absence of such installations, it will give the bridge a cleaner and more elegant look.
This look will be enhanced with the installation of advanced lighting. This lighting will allow the bridge to light up in different colors. I can’t wait to take pictures of this. But before we can see the new Gerald Desmond Bridge in its full glory, the old bridge needs to be torn down.
Gerald Desmond Bridge Replacement Project Tour
Got interested in the new bridge? Join a free tour and visit the project site. It is a great trip with in-depth information about the bridge and its construction. The meeting point for the tour is at the construction office (11 Golden Shore, Long Beach, CA 90831).
From there you will take a bus out to the actual project site and stop at designated spots. These spots don’t require any special apparel. However, closed-toed, flat-soled shoes are recommended. It is a fully narrated tour to help you understand what’s going on at the project site and facts in general. My tour was accompanied by multiple people from the project including Janine (I hope it’s spelled right) who is a Civil Engineer working on the bridge project. She and her colleagues did a fabulous job to give us an in-depth view of the project. They are always happy to answer all your questions and explain details about the bridge.
Tours are held every third Thursday of the month and you can sign up via the form on the project’s homepage. As mentioned, the tour is absolutely free. There is limited parking at the project office, from where you will board the bus. Parking at the visitor parking lot will be validated after the tour. The tour itself last’s about 1.5 hours. Make sure you bring your camera.
There is even a small freebie for taking this tour. You have to install the official app of the bridge replacement project. We got offered some binoculars with the bridge logo on them. Don’t expect top of the line here, but a nice gift to keep an eye on what’s going on at the construction site. Again, they are free and it’s nice to get a little gift to remember the tour. Keep them and come back, when the pedestrian walkway is open, for some ship/vessel spotting.
It was an absolutely amazing tour. I love visiting sites like this. It’s awesome to see what can be achieved and how they actually build a structure like this. After the tour, our guides and the engineer stood by for a small Q&A session.
Peter has a passion for Traveling, Photography, and Geocaching. These are the best ingredients for amazing adventures all over the globe. “Traveling is fun, no matter if you stay in a luxury hotel or travel like a backpacker.” Peter shares his experiences on his Blog www.gatetoadventures.com
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