Explaining Southern California's economy

Port of Long Beach building a bridge to future competitiveness (poll)

Gerald Desmond Bridge

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Rusty Lucido, a foundations manager from Huntington, inspects a rebar support for a pillar.

Gerald Desmond Bridge

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Al Moro, Interim Executive Director of the Port of Long Beach.

Gerald Desmond Bridge

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Construction begins on a $1 billion bridge to replace the aging Gerald Desmond Bridge linking the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Daytime Rendering of Desmond Bridge replacement

Port of Long Beach

A rendering of the bridge under construction to replace the Gerald Desmond Bridge.

Gerald Desmond Bridge

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Operator Jorge-Armando Aguilera of Valencia works on rebar that will be in the center of a large pile support for the new bridge.

Gerald Desmond Bridge

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The Gerald Desmond Bridge linking the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach will be torn down once the new bridge to replace it is complete.

Gerald Desmond Bridge

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Driller Cody Peralta of the Bay Area prepares to attach a digger to a crane for construction on a new bridge in the Port of Los Angeles.

Gerald Desmond Bridge

Grant Slater/KPCC

Construction workers unload rebar supports for pillars of the $1 billion bridge to replace the aging Gerald Desmond Bridge linking the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Gerald Desmond Bridge

Grant Slater/KPCC

Driller Cody Peralta from the Bay Area pulls red tape around a crane at the initial construction area of a new bridge over the Port of Los Angeles.

Gerald Desmond Bridge

Grant Slater/KPCC

Cranes tower over the initial construction areas of a $1 billion bridge to replace the aging Gerald Desmond Bridge linking the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.


The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach handle 40 percent of the goods that come into the U.S. Both ports are spending billions of dollars to modernize operations. As bigger container cargo ships are being built, the Port of Long Beach is making room for them. The first step, is a new bridge.

Replacing the Gerald Desmond Bridge is a key part of a $4.5 billion Port of Long Beach project intended to keep pace with changes in the shipping industry and with other ports. 

Crews began initial preparations for the new construction in January 2013.  On Tuesday night, July 9, officials permanently closed the Pier T Avenue off-ramp from westbound Ocean Boulevard as construction of the new bridge begins on Terminal Island this week.  

Watch this video to view alternate routes.

The existing Gerald Desmond Bridge is already imposing enough.  Its steel arch soars above  the Cerritos Canal in the Port of Long Beach.   The new bridge will dwarf it, said Bob Schraeder, Design-Build Manager for SFI, the joint venture of construction firms building the new bridge.

"At the top of the arch of the existing bridge is the where the bottom of the new bridge will be, so that’s the deck level of our new bridge," said Schraeder.  

He compared the two towers at the center of the new bridge to two 51-story buildings — with elevators. 

Hundreds of piles will be drilled deep into the ground to support the new bridge's columns, so Schraeder's crew spent months building test piles to make sure the real ones will be solid enough to support the columns.  Jorge-Armando Aguilera helped build those piles.  Aguilera has spent nine years working in the construction industry, including several ups and downs.  For him, the bridge project means a regular paycheck. 

"There was a certain time that I was out [of work] for a year or a year and a half, in 2010-2011," said Aguilera, who commutes to Long Beach from Santa Clarita. "I’m happy to be working right now. It keeps me busy."

The new bridge is being built alongside the old one. Not only is the 45-year-old bridge too low for the new cargo ships, it also wasn’t designed to carry today’s combination of truck traffic and commuters.    

"The port will tell you that 15 percent of all goods movement that comes into the U.S. travels across this bridge, so they like to call it the bridge to everywhere," said  Schraeder, the Design-Build Manager. "So we keep traffic open, and that challenges us logistically." 

The Gerald Desmond Bridge is a vital link of the 710 Freeway between Terminal Island, and the Ports of L.A. and Long Beach.  The two ports directly employ nearly 1500 people, but estimate they support more than one-million jobs in Southern California. 

On the roof of the Port of Long Beach's administration building,  interim Executive Director Al Moro pointed in every direction at examples of port improvement projects.  Moro said many North American ports  are making changes  - dredging deeper channels and building taller bridges - because a wider Panama Canal is set to open for larger cargo ships in 2014.

"There are ports on the east coast, in the southeast portion of the United States, that are out there touting the fact that they’ll be ready for these big ships,"  Moro said.  "If we don’t invest in our infrastructure, that cargo has the ability to go somewhere else."

Michele Grubbs with the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association said while the Ports of Los Angeles  and Long Beach still handle 40 percent of the goods coming into the U.S., ports in Florida, Georgia, New York and New Jersey are increasing their market share.   

"The world where the transpacific cargo was always going to come to Los Angeles-Long Beach,   that world is no longer," Grubbs said. "We now have to fight for every bit of cargo that we get in through this gateway."  

She said the new bridge will help both ports in that fight. Bigger container ships will pass below it to reach berths in Long Beach's inner harbor, while the trucks traveling on it to and from the Port of L.A. will have more lanes.

Replacing the Gerald Desmond Bridge bridge also means jobs – the Port says 3,000 people will work on it each year until it’s finished.  

Construction worker Jorge-Armando Aguilera is happy to have gotten in early.

“I want to be here until they build it, until it gets ready and we knock off the other one.”  he said.

Port officials expect the new bridge to be completed in 2016. 

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