LONG BEACH - A final environmental impact report of the Gerald Desmond Bridge replacement project includes few changes from an earlier study, which predicted less overall pollution, lighter traffic and safer standards upon completion.
The new report, which is being voted on by the Port of Long Beach's governing body Monday, includes an exhaustive analysis of everything from traffic flows to the disturbance of bat and falcon roosts nestled on the bridge's underside.
Several months after a draft environmental impact report came out, the new study incorporates very few changes on overall concept or construction.
However, unlike other recent large development projects in the harbor, the planned bridge replacement didn't draw much criticism from area environmental or community groups.
"We looked at every comment, considered them carefully and responded to them, and reviewed any proposed alternatives, but in the end the (earlier) plan was largely followed," said Rick Cameron, the port's director of environmental planning. "It's the best of all options."
Port authorities have been lobbying for almost a decade to replace the aging bridge, which suffers from frequent traffic jams and doesn't meet modern seismic standards.
Most notoriously, the span's crumbling superstructure requires giant nets, known as diapers, to catch falling chunks of concrete rattled loose from its underside.
"The bridge is obsolete and deteriorating,"
Built in 1968, the bridge now handles more than double the amount of traffic it was originally intended to handle.
As port traffic has increased in recent decades, the bridge has grown into one of the nation's most vital trade routes, handling an estimated 15 percent of the country's total waterborne trade, according to the American Association of Port Authorities.
Officials began planning for a replacement in the late 1990s, but it took almost a decade to secure funding and permits from state, local and federal authorities.
Named after a former Long Beach politician, the current bridge is operated and maintained by the city. Upon replacement, Caltrans will take full control, Cameron said.
The replacement will be constructed just several feet from the existing span, which will remain open throughout construction. The old bridge will then be taken down during a yearlong deconstruction about 2015.
To accommodate larger freight ships, the replacement bridge will rise almost 50 feet higher than the current one, which has a 155-foot clearance over the Cerritos Channel shipping lane.
Air pollution generated by bridge construction is expected to rise during the building phase, anticipated to begin in 2012, then drop sharply when the project is complete, largely by easing traffic flow, the EIR found.
Caltrans estimates 18 million vehicles cross the Gerald Desmond each year, some 75 percent of which are commuter vehicles zipping in and out of Long Beach to the port and San Pedro.
The new span will include three lanes in each direction, new connector roads from Ocean Boulevard, the Long Beach (710) Freeway and Pico Avenue, and emergency shoulder lanes.
It will also be less steep, allowing traffic to cross without heavy acceleration.
If approved Monday by the Harbor Department, engineers would begin roughly 18 months of preliminary work before a public bidding process to handle physical construction.
The EIR may also be appealed to the Long Beach City Council, which can order the port to re-evaluate some or all aspects of the study.
If that happens, port authorities expect the project could be delayed a year or longer.
Want to go?
What: Public hearing about the final environmental impact report on replacement of the Gerald Desmond Bridge.
When: 1 p.m. Monday
Where: Long Beach Harbor Department,
925 Harbor Plaza Drive
Info: Call Stacey Crouch at 562-590-4160 or go to www.polb.com/bridge.