Your Sneak Peek At SoCal's Newest Landmark

Two cable towers along the Long Beach portion of the new bridge. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

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This fall, a massive new bridge rising above the Port of Long Beach will open to the public. And when it's lit at night to celebrate civic holidays — like a future Dodgers World Series — it will become a familiar landmark visible for miles.

I got a sneak peek recently of the $1.5 billion Gerald Desmond Replacement Bridge, and yes, that's its actual name, for now. It has been built over the past few years alongside the original but aging Gerald Desmond Bridge which connects Downtown Long Beach to Terminal Island.

The Gerald Desmond Bridge, opened in 1968, will be torn down when the new bridge opens later this year. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

The old bridge was deteriorating, dropping chunks of concrete onto the Port of Long Beach land below. It was also too narrow for today's volume of port truck traffic.

Construction workers suspended over the bridge communicate with their coworkers. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

These days, the workers are doing the final bits of preparing the bridge to open. During my visit, I saw a few men working from the bucket of a cherry picker, hoisted high over the new bridge spanning the Back Channel of the Port of Long Beach.

A worker suspended above the bridge signals at a crane operator below. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

It's dangerous work, but the view from 200 feet above the water is magnificent. Queen Mary and the tall buildings of Downtown Long Beach on one side, the industrial port on the other.

"Fifteen percent of all imported cargo goes across that bridge every day. That's why this is such a vital project to the national economy," said Duane Kenagy, capital programs executive for the Port of Long Beach.

Duane Kenagy oversees construction of the new bridge for the Port of Long Beach. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

He's in charge of building the new bridge and showed me around. Here are five cool things to know about it:

1. IT'S A CABLE-STAYED BRIDGE

California has other cable-stayed bridges that are smaller for people or bicycles, but this is the first in the state that is long and strong enough to carry cars and trucks.

What makes it a cable-stayed bridge is that the entire weight of the roadbed is carried by cables attached directly to towers. (A suspension bridge, like the Golden Gate, is different because it has long cables that run from tower to tower, with the roadway suspended by smaller vertical cables attached to the main cable.)

Fifty to 100 cables make up one of the long suspension cables for the new bridge. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

This bridge has 80 cables, with 40 attaching to each of the two 515-foot towers. The cables are actually bundles of thinner cables combined for strength.

The resulting structure resembles one of those string-and-cardboard art projects kids do in elementary school, to show how straight lines arranged along a right angle can make a graceful curve.

Construction workers ready a cable dampener for installation. The dampener sits close to the base of the cable and protects it from from corrosion, fire, terrorist attack or impact from a wayward truck. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

The two towers were built first, then the roadbeds were built out a segment at a time from the towers. The bridge ends up with 500 feet of back-span, that is, roadway up to the tower, 1,000 feet between the towers and 500 feet down the other side. That technique is called a "balanced cantilever" construction. (The Port of Long Beach has a gallery of construction photos here.)

2. IT HAS THREE TYPES OF EARTHQUAKE PROTECTION

There is a rubber-covered gap where the approach ramp roadway meets the 2,000-foot-long bridge roadway. The rubber covers an expansion joint, which is made up of interlocking sections that enable the span of the bridge to move forward and back in line with the approach road.

"These joints have to accommodate a tremendous amount of movement," Kenagy said. "And so this joint is designed to actually accommodate both horizontal, both directions and vertical movement of up to six feet."

The bridge's cables keep the roadbed from moving dangerously up and down in high winds or an earthquake, a whip-like motion engineers call galloping.

And underneath the roadbed, there are giant shock absorbers — like what you'd see on a pickup truck — to also absorb and dampen the bridge's motion in an earthquake. But these shock absorbers are 30 feet long.

Giant shock absorbers help stabilize the bridge against earthquakes. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

3. IT WILL LIGHT UP THE NIGHT

Each of the 80 cables has its own LED light array shining up from the roadbed and down from the towers. It'll become a new landmark, visible at night for miles across the L.A. Basin.

So you could see it bathed in red, white and blue for Independence Day, Lakers purple and gold for championships, maybe some Dodger Blue at a future World Series.

4. YOU CAN BIKE AND WALK ON IT

The bridge has a completely separate protected lane for riding bikes and walking on the more scenic ocean side. Two four-foot bike lanes in each direction and another four feet for pedestrians. There are also turnouts that function as observation decks to stop and take in the view.

The path is named for Mark Bixby. He was a big advocate for cycling in Long Beach, who died a few years ago in a plane crash.

But once you're off the new bridge, the hike or ride to San Pedro is not completely bike-friendly. This new lane ends on Terminal Island. To get across the rest of the channel and to San Pedro, you're back on rough truck-worn surface streets and a winding detour. It will be up to the city and port of Los Angeles to come up with improvements.

5. IT'S BEEN SUPER-SIZED

The channel passageway underneath the new bridge is 50 feet higher than the old one. That extra height opens up Long Beach Harbor's inner channel to the tallest cargo ships and makes the berths more valuable to shippers who lease the waterfront space.

The new cable stayed bridge has a higher clearence than the old Gerald Desmond Bridge, seen here with truck traffic. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

This new bridge functions as the very end of the 710 Freeway, so it's built to freeway standards. That means three lanes across in each direction and emergency lanes on both sides so it's much wider — and potentially safer — than the old bridge, which lacked breakdown lanes.

6. IT STILL NEEDS A NAME

Gerald Desmond was a Democratic politician who served in Long Beach city government and died in 1964 of kidney cancer when he was 48. As City Attorney, he helped the city of Long Beach obtain a portion of tidelands oil revenues that helped fund the original bridge.

Gerald Desmond was a Democratic politician who served as Long Beach City Attorney before his death in 1964. The bridge connecting Long Beach and Terminal Island that opened in 1968 was named for him. (Long Beach Public Library)

When his namesake bridge opened connecting Ocean Avenue and Terminal Island in 1968, it replaced a scary-to-drive "temporary" floating pontoon bridge that had been in place for 24 years.

Traffic on the four-lane Desmond Bridge as viewed from the new bridge. The new bridge will have six dedicated lanes as well as safety lanes on the side. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

But now the original Gerald Desmond Bridge has reached the end of its useful life. For now, the new bridge is simply known as the Gerald Desmond Replacement Bridge.

So who gets naming rights on the new one?

It was built with $1.5 billion from the Port of Long Beach, Caltrans, Metro and the U.S. Department of Transportation. But when it's finished, it will belong to Caltrans, so the state Legislature gets to pick the new name.

I'm hoping it gets named for someone who shares the bridge's best qualities.

It's colorful, flexible under stress, and has a mission to connect us all.