Inside Seven
Current Issue: September 2014
An artist's rendering of the new Gerald Desmond Bridge.

New Gerald Desmond: a Bridge to California's Economic Future
by  Judy Gish
Issue Date: 12/2010

The current bridge has been good. The new one will be even better.

[Hover cursor over photos to read captions. Click to enlarge.]

How old is old? For a dog, it’s 12 years; for a redwood tree, it’s 700 years; for a bridge that accommodates 68,000 vehicles a day, it’s 42 years.

That’s the age of the Gerald Desmond Bridge, which connects the Long Beach Freeway (SR-710) to Terminal Island at the Port of Long Beach, providing critical access to downtown Long Beach and surrounding communities in addition to its vital role in facilitating goods movement. The current volume of traffic was not anticipated when the bridge opened in 1968 and today it’s nearing the end of its lifespan. Fortunately, a replacement is in the works.

Last month, the California Transportation Commission approved the bridge replacement, launching a formal search for a design/build contractor. A contract is expected to be in place by the end of next year, with construction to begin in spring 2012 and complete in summer 2016.

To celebrate this, a “Project Launch” was held at the port on November 22. Speakers at the event included Mayor of Long Beach Bob Foster; Congressmembers Dana Rohrbacher and Laura Richardson; Senator Alan Lowenthal; Secretary of Business, Transportation and Housing Dale Bonner; Caltrans Director Cindy McKim; Federal Highway Administration Deputy Administrator Greg Nadeau; Port of Long Beach Executive Director Richard Steinke; and President of the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners Nick Sramek.

Numerous funding sources will pay for the bridge’s nearly $1 billion price tag. It will receive $500 million from state highway and transportation bond funds, $300 million from the federal government, $114 million from the Port of Long Beach and $28 million from the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

“One of the noteworthy aspects of this project is the combined efforts of so many,” said Secretary Bonner. “Everyone stepped up to the plate: the state, the port, the federal government and the local transportation agency. California needs this level of cooperation to surmount our current challenges.”

The existing bridge consists of four travel lanes (two in each direction) and a fifth climbing lane. It has a 409.5 foot suspended span and a vertical clearance, or air draft, of 156 feet. Steep approach grades and lack of outside shoulders often result in broken-down vehicles being stuck in the outside lane, severely restricting traffic and impeding emergency vehicles. Although safe for use, the existing bridge is subject to spalling (falling concrete) and is not tall enough to accommodate the newest generation of containerships.

The new bridge, to be built by the port with Caltrans oversight, and Ocean Boulevard will be the westward extension of SR 710 to the Terminal Island Freeway (SR 47). Ocean Boulevard is currently operated by the City of Long Beach. After the bridge is completed, it and the segment of Ocean Boulevard between SR 47 and SR 710 will be adopted into the State Highway System and the roadway transferred to Caltrans. 

Proposed bridge elements include three lanes in each direction for improved traffic flow; emergency lanes on both sides to reduce traffic delays and safety hazards from accidents and vehicle breakdowns; a 200 foot clearance; and reduced grade steepness to improve traffic operations and safety. These improvements, including the bridge approaches, will upgrade the roadway to freeway standards.

“A Cooperative Agreement (CA) between the Department and the Port is due next March and by then we expect to define Caltrans’ role more precisely,” said Project Manager John Vassiliades. “We would most likely have staff overseeing design and construction activities to ensure compliance with State procedures and standards, but again we need to work out the final details in the CA.”

In addition to the economic benefits the project will generate locally, such as the 4,000 jobs a year for every year of construction, the new Gerald Desmond Bridge is of critical importance to regional prosperity as well.

The Port of Long Beach is the second busiest port in the nation and the combined ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are the sixth busiest in the world. Last year, the Port of Long Beach handled $120 billion in cargo, helping to create or sustain 1.4 million jobs nationwide, well over 300,000 of those in southern California.

Because the old bridge is too low to accommodate the latest generation of containerships, however, Long Beach has been losing cargo to ports in Mexico and Canada with easier access. The new bridge, with its extended height, will not only help to regain those customers but also attract new ones.

“The new Gerald Desmond Bridge will reduce congestion, enhance safety and improve traffic flow for the thousands of commuters who use the bridge each day,” said Caltrans Director Cindy McKim. “By undertaking bold projects like this one, we’re improving mobility and encouraging commerce across California.”


The current bridge stands behind a port pier where early morning preparations for the ceremony are underway. Business, Transportation and Housing Secretary Dale Bonner addresses the bridge project launch audience. Caltrans Director Cindy McKim speaking at the ceremony. A rendering of the bridge from a different angle.