Work ahead for Long Beach bridge

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Long Beach's Gerald Desmond Bridge which carries traffic over the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles March 29 in Los Angeles, CA. The165-foot-high, 410-foot-long bridge will be replace with a $350-million suspension bridge at least 20 feet higher and 200 feet longer within four years to accomodate new bigger ships that will pass under it. By the end of the year, the nation's busiest port will become 'super-sized' with ever more massive cranes, freighters, and tug boats to meet the insatiable American appetite for cheap imported goods.

LONG BEACH - Officials in Long Beach said it's time to replace the aging Gerald Desmond Bridge if the city wants to remain competitive with expanding ports in other parts of the country, it was reported today.

"It really is a bridge to everywhere and a workhouse of the goods movement system, so it needs to be replaced with a safer, more adequate system," Richard Steinke, executive director of the Port of Long Beach, told the Daily Breeze.

The existing bridge is considered safe, even though nets have been placed under it to catch chunks of cement that it occasionally sheds.

The newspaper reported that Port of Long Beach officials are expected to announce sometime this week their plan to replace the 42-year-old bridge with a new $1.1 billion cable-supported bridge. The striking structure would have a main span 2,000 feet wide, and would have six traffic lanes and emergency parking strips.

Port officials told the Daily Breeze the proposed bridge would have a vertical clearance of 200 feet, about 45 taller than the current span. The additional height would allow larger cargo ships, and newer, cleaner vessels to pass under the bridge and access port terminals equipped with electrical connections to allow dirty generators to be shut off while ships are in port.

The current bridge has only two lanes of traffic in each direction and no emergency lanes, leading to major traffic jams when accidents occur.

Port officials told the Daily Breeze they have about half the money needed to build the new bridge, while the remaining funds will be sought from federal, state and local sources. Once the bridge is completed, it will be owned by the California Department of Transportation and become a part of the state's highway system.

"This project is critical," Jack Kyser, chief economist for the county's Economic Development Corp., told the Daily Breeze. "When looking at other ports, you come to the conclusion that Los Angeles and Long Beach are well-placed and competitive, but you need to improve the infrastructure for it to remain that way."

Large nets were placed beneath the old arch of the Gerald Desmond Bridge about five years ago, the Daily Breeze reported, to catch chunks of falling concrete that could have landed on workers and nearby businesses. The bridges concrete decks and superstructure rank near the bottom of the state's inspection grading system.

Despite the poor rating, port officials told the Daily Breeze the bridge is still safe for the estimated 68,000 vehicles that cross the span daily, about 75 percent of which are commuters traveling between Long Beach and San Pedro.

"It's safe right," Steinke told the Daily Breeze. "But we really need to spend the money on building a new bridge instead of maintaining the old "one."

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