$1.5 billion Gerald Desmond Replacement Bridge on track for 2018 opening

$1.5 billion Gerald Desmond Replacement Bridge on track for 2018 opening

By Rachel Uranga, Long Beach Press TelegramUpdated: on 11/27/2016

Steve MacLennan, program director for the new Gerald Desmond Bridge, explains the moveable scaffolding system that is used for more efficient construction. Brittany Murray/Staff Photographer

The six-lane bridge will span 1.5 miles and is set to fully
open in 2018. Long Beach October 27, 2016.Brittany
Murray/Staff Photographer

On a clear autumn day, the panoramic view from atop the unfinished Gerald Desmond Replacement Bridge alongside Long Beach harbor is as stunning as the construction below.

By the time the $1.5 billion cable-stayed bridge is complete, laborers will have laid 300,000 cubic feet of concrete, equal to about 60.6 million gallons, and erected more than 90 million pounds of steel and steel reinforcement.

On any given day, more than 300 construction workers, welders, engineers and others are giving shape to the bridge.

“We are literally changing the skyline of Long Beach in a dramatic fashion,” said Steve MacLennan, the bridge’s program manager. “You have one shot to really do this right.”

Billed by Long Beach port and city officials as an iconic structure, the six-lane bridge will span 1.5 miles and is set to fully open in 2018. Massive cables will string out like a fan from towers supporting the structure. Though it’s a year behind schedule and more than $500 million over budget, Long Beach Harbor Commission President Lori Ann Guzman believes construction is back on track and will be done right.

“I am really optimistic,” Guzman said. “With a project of this magnitude, you are going to run into challenges. You are going to have engineering questions. Building a cable-stayed bridge along so many fault lines has never been done, really, globally.”

Seismic adjustments made

Two years ago, the project was delayed after Caltrans engineers demanded the ports retool some design elements to ensure the seismic safety of the bridge. The slowdown came after engineers worked for months to clear a maze of oil and gas lines where construction workers were supposed to bore deep into the earth to build out a supporting structure for the bridge.

As commuters whiz by along the old bridge, named after a prominent Long Beach Democratic councilman who died a year before construction began, three men hang hundreds of feet in the air along one of the new bridge towers. The hard hats are helping create a steel skeleton underneath one of the main towers where industrial elevators and stairwells will be built for future maintenance crews.

Valuable area below bridge

Two towers will soar 500 feet in the air, making it one of the nation’s tallest cable-stayed bridges. But its most important feature to port officials will be the space beneath the bridge.

The bridge provides 50 feet more clearance than the old one, allowing the largest vessels to cross underneath the span that connects Terminal Island to downtown Long Beach. Right now, midsize cargo vessels must wait for a certain tide to navigate underneath its crumbling underside and the clearance is one of the lowest for a commercial seaport.

But the narrow basin leading to the port’s inner piers still pose problems. While the jumbo ships more than 14 stories high can slide under the new bridge, they won’t be able to turn themselves around once they enter the inner harbor.

“At some point in the future we will have to look at the turning radius,” Guzman said. But for now, she said, the fix will allow moderate-size ships that couldn’t easily enter before to slip in the channel without problems.

“Unless there is a business case to be made to address the turning radius, that won’t be done,” she said. “Not at this point.”

Editors’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified how much steel and steel reinforcement is being used to build the Gerald Desmond Replacement Bridge.