The economic meltdown has had an upside at the Port of Long Beach: The replacement of the Gerald Desmond Bridge looks to have become noticeably cheaper.

Due to lower steel and concrete costs, the port expects to slash about $200 million from the original 2007 estimate of $1.15 billion. Another cost-saving measure is the port’s use of the design/build process, which brings the design, engineering and construction teams together early.

The port recently selected four finalists that will compete for the project, now pegged at $942 million. One team is led by Dragados USA Inc., a New York-based subsidiary of Spanish engineering company Grupo ACS. It includes Pasadena’s Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. Another is led by Kiewit Infrastructure West Co., a Santa Fe Springs-based subsidiary of Omaha, Neb., construction giant Kiewit Corp. The third is headed by Swedish international construction company Skanska, which has offices in West Hills, and the fourth by Shimmick Construction Co. of Irvine.

The bridge is being paid for by $500 million in state transportation bonds and $300 million in federal transportation funds, with the Port of Long Beach and the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority kicking in the rest

The original bridge was completed in 1968. While that’s about middle age for a bridge, it was not designed to handle the high number of trucks carrying containers from the ports, said Lee Peterson, spokesman for the Port of Long Beach.

“It’s a strong, little bridge, but it’s not built for this purpose,” said Peterson. “When it was built, this bridge was not going to be a long-term option.”

The replacement span also will be 50 to 60 feet higher so that today’s bigger and taller container ships can pass under it. In addition, the bridge will have an additional lane.

The port will issue a request for proposals from the four teams and award the contract early next year. Construction will begin next year and is expected to be complete by 2017.

Sam Bennett can be reached at sbennett@ or (323) 549-5225, ext. 263.

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