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For over 50 years, the Gerald Desmond Bridge was a signature feature of the Long Beach, CA harbor skyline. However, a need to open the port’s waterways to bigger ships resulted its closure. Still, the bridge remained until recently.

According to a story in ABC7 Eyewitness News, the original bridge had been closed to traffic since October 2020 when a higher 205’ tall replacement bridge opened. While the original bridge rose 155 feet above the water, newer, larger cargo ships required more clearance. 

Barnhart’s Los Angeles team worked with Kiewit to remove the main span of the bridge, which was 400 feet long and weighed in at 6.8 million pounds. Removal required coordination between all parties, including the bridge deconstruction engineer, to develop a plan that was structurally safe and constructable in the field.

The eventual solution involved lowering the bridge 150’ to a waiting barge using four 1100-ton strand jacks. Prior to the lift, Barnhart performed load tests and certifications on the strand jacks. A contingency plan was developed to rebuild a jack if one failed. 

The crew had a 48-hour window to complete the work and faced stiff penalties if they didn’t.  A $15,000-per-hour fee would be accessed if the lowering was not completed in the allotted time and the channel reopened to the Port of Long Beach. That required a 48-hour continuous work schedule over a weekend.

Barnhart lowers a bridge section onto an awaiting barge.
Bridge section being lowered onto an awaiting barge.

On July 9, Kiewit crews cut free the suspended portion of the bridge and Barnhart lowered it onto a barge below for removal. Barnhart supplied manpower to set up, operate and remove the strand jack lowering system. Kiewit performed all structural retrofitting and cutting required for the lowering.

As for the schedule, it was never in jeopardy. The lowering operation and removal of the bridge from the channel via barge was completed in 20 hours with no safety incidents. The channel opened back up one day early. 

The bridge, which opened in 1968, was named for former city attorney and Councilman Gerald Desmond, who helped secure funding for the construction project.