Long Beach officials are bracing for the closure of a major connector between the 710 Freeway and Terminal Island starting Saturday, part of the massive effort to replace the aging Gerald Desmond Bridge.
Traffic headed toward the Port of Long Beach will be directed to leave the 710 at Pico Avenue and travel briefly on surface streets before reentering westbound on Ocean Avenue and crossing the bridge.
The freeway ramp will be out of commission for 21/2 years.
Officials have spent months preparing for the closure and have made improvements along the detour, adding lanes and restriping surface streets to keep traffic flow smooth. But they are urging motorists to be aware of possible delays and to take alternate routes when possible.
The closure is expected to mostly affect truckers headed to the bustling port complex.
The California Department of Transportation estimates that at its peak, about 1,200 vehicles travel the connector every hour, or about one every three seconds, which is lower than many Long Beach surface streets.
About half of those travelers are headed for the Port of Los Angeles, according to John Pope, spokesman for the Port of Long Beach.
"Nobody knows the port better than the trucking companies," Pope said, "and we're confident that they'll quickly find alternate paths, whether that's using the detour or finding ways around it."
Pope said the port is working with trucking companies, Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol to ensure a smooth transition, but also has contingency plans to deal with potential traffic backups, including staging trucks entering the area in lots further north.
Officials at the Port of Los Angeles have already advised truckers headed for its terminals to use the 110 Freeway or other alternatives to avoid potential backups crossing through Long Beach.
Over the next several weeks, Pope said, excavators will demolish sections of the southbound ramp, making way for the path of the new bridge.
Crews will then begin pouring the first of 300 steel and concrete support piles, laying the foundation for the span.
Pope said the closure would be the first of three major long-term road closures to make way for the construction and realignment of approaches to the new bridge, which will be built just north of the existing one. The Gerald Desmond bridge will be open to traffic throughout the construction period.
Later closures of sections of Ocean Avenue connecting downtown Long Beach and the port could have a greater effect on regional commuters who use the span daily to get to San Pedro. Portions of Harbor Scenic Drive and the inner harbor rail line will also be closed over Memorial Day weekend so that crews can demolish portions of the ramp directly above them.
The $1.3-billion project is nearly 10 years in the making, and once completed will be the tallest structure in the Long Beach skyline.