Airo AV Affirm: Long Beach prepares to open a $1.47-billion bridge - Jonathan Cartu Global Design, Architecture & Engineering Firm
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Airo AV Affirm: Long Beach prepares to open a $1.47-billion bridge

Long Beach prepares to open a $1.47-billion bridge

Airo AV Affirm: Long Beach prepares to open a $1.47-billion bridge

Fog hovers just above the new Gerald Desmond Bridge in Long Beach. Workers are scattered over a job site cluttered with traffic cones, construction vehicles and a few small cranes, and Duane Kenagy is giving a tour.

Since signing on as executive director for the project in 2014, Kenagy has grown accustomed to playing docent to an international cast of visiting politicians, students, bureaucrats and media.

Barring delays, the bridge will open Monday, and cars and trucks — by some estimates, 60,000 a day, now rattling across the old bridge just a few feet away — will sail over this gleaming new span connecting the 710 Freeway and downtown Long Beach to the nation’s busiest port complex.

“We’re in a mad dash to get everything done,” Kenagy said, even though with just 10 days to go he hardly seems hurried.

But then an engineer like Kenagy doesn’t manage a $1.47-billion project and coordinate the daily efforts of more 300 union workers over the course of six years without learning how to downplay stress.

The new Gerald Desmond Bridge towers above the old Gerald Desmond Bridge in Long Beach. With 205 feet of clearance over the water, the new bridge will be high enough to accommodate larger cargo ships.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

A worker in an aerial lift rises 30 feet off the roadway. He maneuvers beside one of the bridge’s 80 white cables that rise to the top of the twin towers. Up close, they look a little like the lines of a twirling skirt bundled at the waist.

Sponge in hand, he begins wiping the plastic sheathing that protects an intricate bundling of wire, the actual cables, inside. The solution is to prevent the writing of taggers from staining the surface.

The new Gerald Desmond Bridge is one of three construction projects with a billion-dollar-plus price tag completed in Los Angeles County in the last five years.

Like the tallest building, the Wilshire Grand, and the newest sports and entertainment complex, SoFi Stadium, the bridge provides the region with a glimpse of a future beyond its present-day problems: struggles in the streets, a global pandemic, unemployment, homelessness.

Construction workers high up on a bridge

Construction Superintendent Mike Way, in blue helmet, and others finish up work on the new Gerald Desmond Bridge in Long Beach, scheduled to open in early October.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Construction is also underway on the $2-billion Crenshaw Line, the $4.5-billion people mover at LAX, the $588-million Sixth Street Bridge downtown.

While the immediate goal may be to showcase the region during the 2028 Summer Olympics, these projects will help define life in Los Angeles for generations.

Kenagy, 67, who came here in 1989 to work on the elevated roadway above the 110 Freeway and never left, summarizes such ambitions:

“We are an optimistic people living in an optimistic region.”

The bridge was conceived of a month after 9/11 and completed in a pandemic-occasioned recession. Its 19-year journey from blueprints to opening took it from wind tunnels in China to engineering studios in Germany, from a steel mill in Arizona to union halls in California.

Semyon Treyger was there from the start when the Port of Long Beach awarded his employer, the engineering firm HNTB, and Parsons Transportation Group the contract in 2001 to come up with a replacement for the existing bridge, which had opened in 1968 and was already obsolete.

Treyger, who was trained as a structural engineer in the Soviet Union and immigrated to the United States in 1979, began working with Danish bridge architect Poul Ove Jensen to solve a problem.

Container ships — the behemoths of modern commerce — were getting larger and unable to access terminals in the port’s back bay, except at low tide, because the existing bridge did not have the required clearance.

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia takes a walk on the new Gerald Desmond Bridge

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia walks on the new Gerald Desmond Bridge on Sept. 24.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Before building a structure designed to last 100 years, Treyger and Jensen turned to the Danish Maritime Institute to find out how tall…

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