With a summer opening postponed by the pandemic, the $1.45 billion Gerald Desmond Bridge replacement officially opens on Labor Day 2020.

Almost two years after construction began on an infrastructure project that brought 3,000 construction-related jobs, this new bridge will improve traffic flow and accommodate larger cargo ships, including megaships that hold 18,000 TEUs.

Second-tallest cable-stayed bridge

The Gerald Desmond Bridge Replacement Project is two decades in the making; the initial planning began in 2000. During the groundbreaking ceremony on January 8, 2013, two helicopters hovered 515 feet above ground to illustrate the height of the two planned cable towers.

Upon opening, it will be the second-tallest cable-stayed bridge in the United States and California’s first vehicular cable-stayed bridge. The deck rises 205 feet above the water, a vertical clearance that will accommodate larger vessels into the Port of Long Beach. The roadway will allow for six traffic lanes, three travel lanes in each direction. It will also include four emergency shoulders, a bike and pedestrian path with scenic overlooks, and more efficient transition ramps and connectors. While taller than the Gerald Desmond Bridge, the inclines and declines will be more gradual and safer.

Safety first

Designed to last 100 years, the Gerald Desmond Bridge replacement is constructed to withstand the test of time and all that can occur within a century of long-term daily use. There is 6,400 feet of approach in addition to the 2,000-foot-long replacement bridge and it all sits just a few miles from two active fault lines (Newport-Inglewood and Palos Verdes).

Cable-stayed bridges are particularly sturdy, and this design has been tested to withstand powerful earthquakes or a terrorist bombing. There are 40 steel cables for each of the two towers and seismic dampers, which act as giant shock absorbers, are also installed. “You just can’t knock one of these things down by knocking out one or two cables,” says Dr. John Parrish, head of the California Geological Survey.

Also, this project marks the first time accelerometers (earthquake sensors) have been incorporated into the design of a California bridge from day one. Seventy-five seismic sensors measure the impact on the span when a nearby fault sets off an earthquake. Data recorded by the sensors will be sent to scientists across the state via the state’s Integrated Seismic Network.

Still to come

As the Gerald Desmond Bridge replacement project comes to a close, a new name has yet to be disclosed. Additionally, the bike and pedestrian walkways won’t be added until a couple of months after the official opening.

Plans for demolishing the Gerald Desmond Bridge, originally opened in 1968, are still being finalized. It may be disassembled in the reverse order of how it was originally constructed. Once a contract is awarded, the demolition project is expected to take approximately two years.