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

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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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