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Feature Stories

Bridge to Dwarf Downtown Buildings

From Issue: Volume XXI - Number 9

By Steve Propes

In four years, Long Beach will have a structure towering in excess of 100 feet over the town’s tallest structure, One World Trade Center and about double the height of the Villa Riviera, becom-ing “an icon for the city, right along with the Queen Mary. Everything else will be dwarfed in the city.”

At least that’s the vision of Long Beach Harbor spokesman John Pope when referring to the new span that will replace the 45-year-old Gerald Desmond Bridge that links Long Beach to Termi-nal Island.

The existing $19 million Gerald Desmond Bridge, named after a city attorney that championed harbor causes, opened in 1968 to replace a “roller coaster” pontoon bridge operated by the Navy from 1944 to 1948 when acquired by the city.

The Desmond Bridge was 160 feet over the channel. The new yet-to-be-named bridge’s deck “will rise 55 feet over the Desmond or 205 feet at the highest” allowing the newest supertankers to easily pass underneath and will have towers of an impressive 515 feet over the channel.

Original cost estimates of the new bridge were at $950 million, but increased to a minimum of $1 billion, much of that increase a result of the harbor’s first oil boom, literally, when dynamite had been commonly used to shut off tapped out oil wells.

“The recent cost additions was from the complications of the oil wells,” said Pope. “It’s a big mess down there, crisscrossing water and oil lines. Many of the wells were exploded, so to cap them off we have to redo the whole process, re-abandon them, making sure it’s done right as each one has its own challenges. There are 90 of these old oil wells that are in the footprint of the new bridge” as well as 26 active oil wells, which need to be moved out of the way.

It’s a design-build contract, the advantages of which are in cost and time savings, “doing design as you build,” said a spokesman. “However the design is pretty much in place, but a big project might run into unexpected conditions on the ground. Any major project will have something pop up during construction.”

There will be no toll booths nor toll lanes. “As it’s not a revenue generating bridge, it’s considered critical infrastructure. The money comes from federal dollars and dock fees, though cargo carriers are already paying fees for usage.” According to Pope, “funding is all in place and all our partners are moving forward.” To get federal funds, “we were able to make the case that this structure is vital to the country.” Fifteen percent of goods moving through the country currently pass over the Gerald Desmond Bridge.

With the Desmond at 160 feet over the water, the largest new ships can’t pass under it. “Some of the biggest cargo ships coming into Long Beach, we can handle on the ocean side, but they can’t get into the inner harbor.” With a ratio of two outer docks to one inner dock, “there is one big dock area that hasn’t been developed awaiting the bridge and the big ships.”

Though the new bridge just north of the Desmond will in operation in three years, it will take about an additional two years for new ships to pass under it as that’s the estimated time required to dismantle the Desmond, the cost of which is not part of the current budget. A “very tight squeeze separates the two bridges,” so it can’t be blown up.

Prep work is well underway. “We will be kicking off construction this month,” said Pope. “The real kickoff will be the demolition of Ocean Blvd. ramps to and from Pier T. Then we’ll start foundation work, doing an innovative thing with piles, digging a hole, forming the pile in the ground,” which lessens the sound and seismic impact of traditional pile driving.

Speaking of seismic, 17 alternatives for seismic safety, including rollers, which are in use in Japan, but not in the U.S. were considered with a state-of-the-art system selected.

When complete, the bridge will be three lanes in each direction of a cable stay design, used for new bridges like those in Boston and over Tampa Bay, as well as many international sites. Build-ing will commence from the west end approach, then the middle span, the cable stay part, then the east part over the channel. It will be less steep than the current grade and approaches are de-signed to be one percent less of a grade, important to reduce the amount of fuel trucks use, an environmental issue.

“This is the first bridge of its kind in California and the first that Cal Trans has been involved with. It’s a very efficient design and it’s cheaper to build a bridge like this.”