Plan to replace bridge at Port of Long Beach progresses

The Port of Long Beach moved forward Thursday with its plan to replace the deteriorating Gerald Desmond Bridge, releasing a draft of its revised environmental impact report on the proposed project.

Port officials say the current bridge -- which was built in 1968 and crosses a key shipping channel in Long Beach -- is too low to the water, rendering that part of the Cerritos Channel impassable to the world's biggest cargo ships, which can hold more than 14,000 containers.

The bridge's other main problem, port officials say, is that it wasn't built to carry the traffic it does now, adding stress to the structure. It has been outfitted with nylon mesh "diapers" for several years to catch chunks of falling concrete.

The revised draft details the port's plans to increase safety and improve navigation with a replacement bridge that is taller, wider, stronger and better suited to serving the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the nation's busiest port complex.

It would have six traffic lanes instead of five, plus emergency lanes on both sides to accommodate disabled vehicles.

Currently, many accidents force multiple lane closures on the bridge, snarling traffic on adjacent streets.

Public hearings on the bridge replacement will be held.

Those in favor of the project are expected to argue that the port has no choice but to build a new bridge. Critics are expected to express dissatisfaction with any change that would allow even more traffic along congested routes such as the nearby 710 Freeway.

The planned structure would cost an estimated $1.1 billion and generate an average of 4,000 jobs a year over a five-year construction period, port officials said.

ron.white@latimes.com

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