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American Shipper

Long Beach bridge project gets green light

Long Beach bridge project gets green light

   After years of trying to put together a financing package, the California Transportation Commission on Wednesday approved the Port of Long Beach's plan to fund and build a $950 million replacement for the Gerald Desmond Bridge.

   The project is motivated by the need for a higher clearance to allow the new generation of mega-ships to pass underneath. The new bridge will also feature a wider roadway to improve safety and reduce congestion for cars and trucks.

   The favorable vote, which authorizes the port and the California Department of Transportation to seek firms to design and construct the span, is the final government clearance needed for the project. Last month the Long Beach City Council approved the port's plans and its environmental impact report.

   The Port of Long Beach said it would issue on Friday a request for bids from companies that can both design and build the bridge, a contracting method designed to speed up the start of construction.

   Final design and preliminary construction will begin early next year and construction of the main bridge supports could start in 2012, according to the port.

Sramek

   'The Transportation Commission's approval is a major milestone for this project,' Nick Sramek, president of the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners, said in a statement. 'It allows us to embark upon one of the biggest construction projects in the state and to replace an obsolete bridge with a new one built to handle the traffic and cargo needs of the region.'

   State highway and transportation bond funds will cover $500 million of the span's cost. Federal sources are expected to contribute about $300 million. The Port of Long Beach has committed $114 million to the project and Los Angeles Country Metro is providing $28 million.

   California added $200 million to its contribution this summer after extensive negotiations with the port. The extra money was available because the state's budget has caused many other projects to be put on hold right now, port spokesman Lee Peterson said.

   The Gerald Desmond Bridge is a major thoroughfare for trucks hauling containers in and out of the port, which along with Los Angeles is the nation's largest gateway for containerized goods. About 15 percent of all ocean cargo travels over the bridge from Terminal Island to local, regional or national destinations. It also is a heavily used route for commuters in the San Pedro Bay area.

   California officials 20 years ago identified the Gerald Desmond Bridge as a top priority, but until now were unable to come up with the money for a new bridge.

   The project is expected to create an average of 4,000 jobs per year during the five-year construction period. When the new bridge is completed, the old one will be dismantled.

Steinke

   Port Director Richard Steinke said at a logistics conference in San Diego on Sept. 29 that the Gerald Desmond Bridge has national significance, but only received $100 million from Congress in the multiyear surface transportation-spending plan passed in 2005.

   And earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Transportation did not grant any money from its $1.5 billion discretionary TIGER program that was part of the 2009 economic stimulus bill, to the dismay of local officials.

   The recession and decrease in cargo volumes prevented the port from charging an additional infrastructure fee to help pay for the bridge and other projects.

   Even some ocean carriers and shippers that supported a new bridge changed their position during the recession, saying they needed reductions in terminal usage fees and were willing to postpone infrastructure improvements, said Dale Bonner, California's secretary of business, transportation and housing. ' Eric Kulisch

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