Goodbye to the Gerald Desmond: Long Beach’s old bridge is being demolished

The old bridge inaugurated in 1968 has been replaced by a new infrastructure built by Webuild

Gerald Desmond Jr. had just turned 18 when he was summoned by authorities in Long Beach, California in June 1968 to do something that would remain with him throughout his life. To inaugurate the new arched bridge spanning the entrance to the Long Beach harbour, the California city decided to dedicate the bridge to the memory of Gerald Desmond, Junior’s father, who had helped secure funding for the bridge and died a year before the bridge was finished. Junior put the final seal on the structure, a gold bolt, forever embedded in the bridge that would share his name over the years.

The old and new bridges in Long Beach Bay

After 54 years, Gerald Desmond Jr. was called back to “his” bridge, this time to unscrew that “golden bolt.” It was time for the old bridge to be demolished. It was retired and closed to vehicular traffic at the end of 2020 with the construction of the Gerald Desmond Bridge replacement bridge, an imposing and elegant infrastructure called the Long Beach International Gateway, built by Webuild in consortium with other international builders. It has already become iconic, with its long cable-stayed bridge access viaducts with a 304-metre (1,082-foot) central span, two side spans of about 150 metres (492 feet), and two main towers 157 metres (524 feet) high.

“I was a sophomore in college in 1968 when I was asked to plant this last bolt,” said Junior, holding the same bolt, which had just been removed during the bridge’s retirement ceremony. “I’m very happy to be able to share this new moment with my family; it’s funny that they found it again.”

There were no commemorative plaques around that bolt, but Long Beach Port Authority engineers tracked it down through photographs from the time, among thousands of others. All the bolts had been covered in anti-corrosion paint.

A large port developed around its bridge

Over the years, the Port of Long Beach, combined with the Port of Los Angeles, has become one of the busiest port terminals in the world. The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are the first- and second-largest in the United States.

The Port of Long Beach accounts for 1 in 5 of all loaded containers moving through U.  S. ports. The port’s future growth was being held back by the old bridge, which was too close to the water to allow the large New Panamax-class ships to pass below, which have become the shipping industry’s “new normal” after the Panama Canal was widened in 2016 by a European consortium led by Webuild.

The old Gerald Desmond Bridge, which served the transportation network for more than 50 years, carrying around 68,000 California commuters and freight trucks daily, will now be completely removed. Demolition will begin with the removal of the suspended span section on the Back Channel, requiring a 48-hour closure of the channel to all boat traffic, between Saturday, July 9 and Monday, July 11. The 410-foot-long suspended bridge span will be dismantled, cut and lowered onto a barge. Dismantling and removal of the main spans, steel trusses, steel plate connections, columns and access ramps will take until the end of 2023.