Long Beach Bridge Project Calls for Collaboration

Long Beach Bridge Project Calls for Collaboration


By Lori Musser

Stand up and take a bow, heavy-lift movers, for continuing to keep North America’s container trades moving.

A multitude of project specialists including contractors, forwarders, carriers, and crane and rigging companies, came together to work on the already iconic Gerald Desmond Bridge replacement. The new bridge will carry 68,000 vehicle trips per day, including roughly 15 percent of U.S. import container cargo.

Serving Southern California ports, the revamped bridge will offer 205 feet of air draft, accommodating the world’s tallest ships. It is also wider to better accommodate future vessel traffic.

The existing bridge is being replaced because, with only 150 feet of clearance, large ships can’t underpass the existing structure on their way to inner harbor facilities. The bridge’s vehicle capacity is also inadequate, and its physical condition has been deteriorating – to the point that it has infamously been equipped with netting to catch the falling chunks.

One can almost hear a collective sigh of relief from Southern California’s container operators, as the bridge – with three lanes in each direction plus safety lanes – nears completion.


Long Beach Champions Project

Duane L. Kenagy is interim deputy executive director at the Port of Long Beach. For him, the bridge is a project of national significance.

“It serves major employment centers, commuters, the port complex and the region, but it is nearing the end of its useful life and needed to be upgraded for seismic safety, capacity and to address safety issues for emergency access,” Kenagy said.

Like many other bridges designed in decades past, the Gerald Desmond didn’t anticipate port growth and the advent of container cargo. When the bridge was constructed, cargo ships were one-sixth the size they are today. Although the Long Beach outer harbor is already handling the world’s largest cargo vessels, the existing bridge prevents such ships from reaching the inner harbor.

In early August, Kenagy said the new bridge project was 75 percent complete. Once it is completed – expected by the end of 2019 – the demolition of the old bridge will proceed.

The entire project has been predicated on limiting interruptions to port operations and ensuring a smooth cargo flow. Kenagy pointed out that the port has collaborated widely to ensure detours and new traffic routes are managed effectively, despite having to contend with all modes of transportation, an oil field and even realignment of a rail line. Barged equipment deliveries to site, and over-the-water work carried out by a barge spudded down in the channel have necessitated close collaboration with maritime partners too.

“One of the things that we did at the port is put together an inner division team – from harbor security to traffic engineering, civil engineering, planning and construction management folks … They came up with solutions to work with contractors to maintain access for everyone, and to keep trucks flowing,” Kenagy said.

As an example, demolition began on the last major connector ramp from the existing bridge to a main highway (the Interstate 710 freeway) over the U.S. Independence Day holiday to coincide with a break in truck and rail traffic. It will be finished on another holiday.Trucking Components At Night

Oversize/overweight routings in and out of the port complex have been maintained, for regular port cargo and bridge component cargo. “That has been one of our success stories,” Kenagy said.

As part of this effort, North Dakota-based Fisher Industries managed over-dimensional moves, using heavy-duty transporters that offer independent rear steerage for safety, for the 150-foot-long center-span steel beams. Fisher trucked to the site at night to avoid traffic and logistical issues along Southern California’s busy freeway network.

The bridge replacement project itself is a “buy American” initiative, with components coming from U.S. companies via truck, rail and occasionally water. Coolidge, Arizona-based Stinger Bridge & Iron provided steel beams, girders and other structural steel components. The pier tables were largely constructed on site. The steel cables were fabricated by Structural Technologies of Dallas, Texas, and major steel components were hauled by Fisher Industries.

Some of the equipment for the project was sourced outside of the U.S. For example, the two 3.1 million-pound self-launching Moveable Scaffolding Systems used for access and construction support came from China, with forwarding managed by Fracht Group. This was the first time an underlane self-launched movable scaffold system had been used in California.

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Late last year, after the westbound approach of the bridge project was completed, the community was intrigued to watch Mammoet USA maneuver a 3.1 million-pound bright orange Mobile Scaffolding System, or MSS, between the westbound lanes and across the ground to the columns for the eastbound lanes using a multi-axle transporter. Later it was lifted and moved along the columns down to the “starting point” at the low-end of the approach roadway. The assembled MSS, or span-by-span “bridge builder,” was described by the Long Beach Post as “the size of a small warship.” The move was completed in one hour.

A second MSS — this one bright blue — was moved into position by Barnhart Crane & Rigging. Barnhart rotated it 180 degrees to position it to be raised up for the eastbound section, where it would begin building the 200-foot span sections from the “high” point downward. Barnhart managed the turn using its Goldhofer hydraulic platform transporters. The modular nature of the system, which allows for unlimited configurations by adding axles (or lines) to the length and width of the trailer, made the complex rotational move look easy.


Years In The Making

Started in 2013, the bridge replacement project is a design-build project, with construction managed by SFI JV, a joint venture organization comprising general engineering contractor Shimmick Construction Inc., Spain’s Fomento de Construcciones y Contratas SA (FCC), and Italy’s Impregilo S.p.A.

Bob Schraeder, SFI’s project manager, said: “Every major infrastructure project has its own unique challenges, such as moving large pieces of equipment or heavy materials around in tight spaces. From a logistics standpoint, we had the benefit of long-range planning to build the new bridge in a sequence that minimized disruptions to traffic and port operations.”

The bridge project was simplified by marshaling and handling construction fabrication work on site. The Port of Long Beach was able to provide open areas around the bridge site, including a flat expanse directly beneath the bridge approaches. The Norway Steel Group-designed MSS units were shipped from China by container, offloaded near the new bridge location, loaded onto flatbed semi-trucks and hauled just a few hundred feet to the staging area, where they were assembled.The as-yet-unnamed replacement bridge will be the second-tallest cable-stayed bridge in the U.S. with the highest vertical clearance of any cable-stayed bridge in the country. It’s a joint effort of Caltrans and the Port of Long Beach, with additional funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. It will be owned and maintained by Caltrans.

The new bridge’s design is based on two 515-foot steel reinforced concrete towers that transition from an octagonal base to a diamond shape at the top. Forty steel-wire cables will connect each tower to the bridge deck in a fan-like pattern. The longest cable will be 573 feet. The main span and back spans will be 2,000 feet long and 205 feet above the water. The total length of the bridge from west to east will be 8,800 feet. A total of 100 columns will support the west and east approach spans. In late 2017, the new towers were topped out.


Topping And Tables

On April 26–27, teams lifted the vital pier tables onto four falsework columns that had been constructed around the base of each tower. The pier tables were, essentially, the first sections of bridge deck. Each was raised around a column. Each table consists of four large steel beams that support the road deck and are joined together by the edge girders – two crossbeams on either side of the towers. Pre-fabricated concrete deck sections were placed on top of this steel frame.

On May 8, the first cable was laid in place. California-based Bigge Crane and Rigging was tasked with lifting the pier tables for each of the bridge’s two main towers, which form the east and west ends of the 2,000-foot main span. In preparation for the positioning of the pier tables, four-column falsework (temporary framework) was installed on each of the two towers.

Then, four Enerpac strand jacks were deployed. After the first pier table was installed, they were moved to the falsework on the second tower for the second pier table lift.

Each pier table was suspended by four cable strands running from the corners up to the first casing hole in the tower.

Following the positioning of the pier tables, four derrick cranes (two per pier table) were tasked with carrying out the balanced-cantilevered construction of the main span.

“The strand jack is perfect for this kind of job,” said John Levintini, project operations manager at Bigge Crane and Rigging. “It would have been impractical to use a crane given the size and weight of the pier table. The strand jack is the best choice in terms of both lifting capacity and cost.”


Avoiding Past Mistakes

The MMS deployment, pier table lifts and steel cable positioning are critical aspects of the bridge construction, but there are more challenging tasks to come and bridge construction is not without risk.

Those with long memories will remember when the old Gerald Desmond bridge was under construction, the very last beam fell 100 feet to the ground, reportedly damaging two oil wells and delaying the project by several weeks.

This new bridge is an undoubtedly complex initiative that will have a monumental impact on the region. “In Southern California we are naturally blessed with some of the deepest harbors in North America,” Kenagy said. “Our scale of business requires a project of this size. It will help complete the freeway system and improve accessibility to the port and port complex. Literally thousands of people have had to work together and while we’ve had our challenges, we’ve worked through them and had a lot of cooperation.”


Based in the U.S., Lori Musser is a veteran shipping industry writer.

Photo: Port of Long Beach



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