Last week, officials gathered at the Port of Long Beach to mark the start of a nearly $1 billion project to replace the aging Gerald Desmond Bridge, a vital link between the West Coast's second busiest port and the city of Los Angeles.

The 42-year-old Gerald Desmond Bridge is a vital route for trucked cargo, carrying about 15 percent of the nation's containerized goods. It is also a critical link for commuters, who make up about 75 percent of bridge traffic. Thousands of vehicles use it to travel each day between Long Beach and San Pedro, and between Orange County and western Los Angeles County.

The new span will be higher to accommodate the newest, most efficient cargo ships and wider to handle the cars and trucks that travel the bridge each day. The trucks coming and going over the Gerald Desmond Bridge carry more than 10 percent of our entire nation's waterborne cargo, according to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in his blog.

The bridge replacement is a joint project by the California Department of Transportation and the Port of Long Beach, with funding also from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

"The new Gerald Desmond Bridge will reduce congestion, enhance safety and improve traffic flow," said Caltrans Director Cindy McKim. "By undertaking bold projects like this one, we're improving mobility and encouraging commerce across California."

The Port and Caltrans are seeking firms that are qualified to take on the job to both design and build the new bridge. Design and preliminary construction could begin by mid-2011 and construction of the main bridge supports could start in early 2012.

"The new bridge will be designed to handle the traffic and cargo needs of the region -- not just now, but well into the future," said Nick Sramek, President of the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners. "It's time to get started!"

Of the $950 million needed for the bridge, $500 million will come from state highway transportation funds. Federal sources are expected to contribute about $300 million. The Port of Long Beach has pledged $114 million and Los Angeles County Metro is providing $28 million.

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