The Long Beach City Council has approved plans by the Port of Long Beach to replace the aging Gerald Desmond Bridge, clearing the way for the $1 billion project to begin as early as next year.

The Council voted unanimously this week to approve an environmental impact report that found no major impacts from replacing the bridge.

“This was the last step in the environmental process,” said Lee Peterson, a spokesman for the port.

The project financing must still be approved by the California Transportation Commission, which is expected to consider the matter Nov. 4. Peterson said the commission’s vote is little more than a formality.

The port has secured about $636 million in funding from various sources including federal, state and regional transportation funds and has recently identified the rest. A contractor has yet to be selected.

The 42-year-old bridge connecting Long Beach to San Pedro is a vital cargo span carrying at least 15 percent of the nation’s goods from the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. In recent years, however, it has literally been falling apart necessitating the port to install special netting underneath to catch falling concrete chunks.

The new bridge will be built alongside the existing structure. Construction is expected to take five to six years, after which the current bridge will be demolished. The project will be put out to bid following the transportation commission’s vote.

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