California’s New “Postcard” Bridge


The Gerald Desmond Bridge will be replaced by a new more efficient bridge

By Sophia Acevedo

The Port of Long Beach in Long Beach, Calif., will be in for a huge upgrade this late summer as the Gerald Desmond Bridge Replacement project finishes completion.

The current Gerald Desmond Bridge, which was built in the 1960s, has been vital to travel in the beach area as well as important for the nation’s waterborne cargo. However, the original bridge has become functionally obsolete, demanding the need for a replacement (in comes the Gerald Desmond Bridge Replacement project).

Construction for the bridge replacement has been in the works for seven years, with not only the goal of replacing the original bridge, but building one that will last 100 years and improve the efficiency of cargo flow.

As the first cable-stayed bridge in California for traffic, the 515-foot tall structure is predicted to be a ‘postcard’ bridge for the region,” Denis Wolcott, spokesperson for the Port of Long Beach

A Design-Build Project

To work on the bridge project, the Port of Long Beach has collaborated with the California Department of Transportation, who will eventually assume ownership of the bridge, and contracted the joint venture team SFI (Shimmick Construction Inc, FCC Construction and Impregilo S.p.A.). The Port also hired WSP, a project/contract management team, to make certain that the project stayed in line with the specifications of the project as well as maintained cost control. “As one of the world’s busiest port complexes, significant coordination was required to ensure uninterrupted flow of cargo,” said Denis Wolcott, spokesperson on behalf of the Port of Long Beach.

One of the first challenges the team encountered was building in an area that was once overwhelmingly filled with oil wells. Crew members had to remove oil well casings up to 200 feet below the ground without damaging the soil around the casings, which resulted in a timeline adjustment since it took longer than originally expected.

The California Department of Transportation also asked for a bridge redesign to improve the cable-stay span of two of the main bridge towers, which resulted in another change in the timeline and budget. However, the project had the benefit of being a design-build project, which compensated for these changes in timeline. In a design-build project the design and construction project are in one contract. Typical projects have the designing and construction process in different stages. As a result, engineers and designers could update specifications right away when they needed, making the overall process faster and more affordable, according to Wolcott.

Detours and Weekly Construction Updates

Since the replacement bridge was also being built right next to the original bridge and a major priority was for the project to not affect the flow of traffic, major road and rail detours were scheduled overnight or during times when there was less traffic. Schedules were also made ahead of time for days when international cargo needed to pass through the bridge, so that the construction could be adjusted to not interrupt the cargo.

Communication between the builders and the community also became a key component in making sure there weren’t any scheduling difficulties. A bridge app was developed to give members of the community an idea of time traffic information since it included access to three live webcams. A weekly newsletter also provided updates on the project.

“All of these efforts have generally created excitement and anticipation within the greater Long Beach community about a bridge that not only will improve traffic flow in the region, but also delivers a new icon to Long Beach,” says Wolcott about the development of their app and weekly updates. “As the first cable-stayed bridge in California for traffic, the 515-foot tall structure is predicted to be a ‘postcard’ bridge for the region,”

To continue the feeling of excitement in the community, a guided bus trip was set up by the Port of Long Beach and gave the community a more up-close look at the project when it was safe to do so.

The New Design

The new bridge towers over the original by a height of 55 feet; the raised bridge height better accommodates larger cargo container ships and helps support the emergency lanes that were added on both sides of the bridge — for a total of 5 lanes on each side.

Starting points at each end of the new bridge were also stretched out, which reduced the grade of the bridge to 6% on the new bridge. “The lower grade means trucks crossing the bridge will require less energy to cross it. Given the amount of truck (and car) traffic over the bridge, there are anticipated energy savings and emission reductions,” says Wolcott.

Another design element that was incorporated was a “Texas U-turn” at the end of the bridge, which provides trucks a continuous U-turn from the port facilities to the new bridge. Trucks aren’t the only ones to get more space on the bridges. Bicyclists will have the chance to make their way across the replacement bridge through a pedestrian-bicycle path that will connect to other paths along Long Beach.

What’s the replacement bridges most important feature though? It can withstand a major earthquake. With seismic design and technology, it is considered the “most wired bridge” in the world, according to Wolcott. With 74 accelerometers, or seismic sensors, are fitted into the new bridge and it will provide engineers details about the bridge’s integrity and how the bridge moves when there is an earthquake. This information can hopefully be integrated into future bridge designs, making for safer designs that are mindful of natural disasters.

Though the new bridge does not have a name yet, this project has a lasting impact on the rest of California’s future. With the power and force to withstand the sheer force of just about anything, the replacement for the Gerald Desmond Bridge is going to be a valuable piece of infrastructure for Long Beach.

Sophia Acevedo is the Editorial Assistant at American Infrastructure Magazine. She can be reached at