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Sunday, Oct 1, 2023

Vincent Thomas Bridge Set for Overhaul

In recent decades, a lot of attention and $1.5 billion was spent on replacing the Gerald Desmond Bridge connecting the Port of Long Beach with the city of Long Beach and the 710 Freeway. Now it’s the turn of the Vincent Thomas Bridge, which connects Terminal Island at the Port of Los Angeles with San Pedro and the 110 Freeway. 

The California Department of Transportation, or Caltrans, plans to spend approximately $706 million – including $629 million on construction – to replace the road decking on the 60-year-old bridge. The agency is now conducting initial public comment sessions for the project, which could begin construction in 2025 and finish in 2027.

When it opened in 1963 after nearly 20 years of planning and false starts, the Vincent Thomas Bridge (named after the state Assemblyman who championed the bridge project) was the first welded suspension bridge in the nation. Its goal was to connect the cargo docks on Terminal Island with the homes and shops for the dockworkers in San Pedro; up until that point, the only way to travel between those points was by ferry.

Now, the 1,500-foot main span of the bridge over the main channel at the Port of Los Angeles is the fourth longest suspension bridge in the state. The road on top of that bridge deck has two lanes in each direction that carry roughly 53,000 vehicles per day on average, including nearly 4,700 heavy-duty trucks, according to figures from Caltrans.

All that vehicle travel has taken its toll: Caltrans has released photos of the bridge showing cracks in the concrete decking and debris indicating some of the decking has broken away completely. 

But tearing up and then replacing the decking for such a vital transportation artery will cause major difficulties for area commuters, dockworkers and other port and shipping line personnel. That’s why Caltrans has proposed three alternatives for construction:

• A full closure for up to a year with construction work proceeding on a 24/7 basis; or 

• A partial closure for up to 30 months of three of the four lanes during nighttime hours and extended weekend closures; or 

• A partial closure of up to three years of one lane in each direction during nighttime hours and extended weekend closures.

Depending on which option is chosen, the project could wrap up as soon as early 2026 or extend through much of 2027.

Caltrans did not indicate which would be the least expensive and most expensive options. That analysis is expected in subsequent environmental documents.

During a recent presentation to the San Pedro and Wilmington communities around the bridge, Caltrans presented a map with several alternative routes that drivers could take if the bridge were to be closed completely or become gridlocked during the partial closure periods. The main alternative would include going through Wilmington and then taking the Terminal Island Bridge (also known as State Route 47) onto terminal island.

But in public hearings, Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn, whose district includes the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, suggested that a ferry between San Pedro and Terminal Island be reinstated for the duration of the project.

Caltrans has indicated that it will release a draft environmental impact report on the project by the end of the year; that report may contain the agency’s recommendation on which of the construction options to implement. Then another round of public comment will begin, which should lead to the submission of a final environmental impact report about a year from now. 

Once that final environmental impact report is approved – assuming there are no legal challenges to that document – Caltrans would then select a contractor team to carry out the work. The agency has said it expects construction to begin sometime in 2025.

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