About 20 months after the bridge closed to traffic, the main span of the old Gerald Desmond Bridge was removed Saturday, July 9, 2022. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

After spanning the Back Channel at the Port of Long Beach for over half a century, the Gerald Desmond Bridge officially began being dismantled Saturday.

The 3,600-ton main span of the old bridge was slowly lowered onto a barge using a strand jack system—a bundle of steel cables run through hydraulic cylinders. The section was lowered at a rate of about three inches per minute, or 15 feet per hour, according to Duane Kenagy, capital programs executive for the port.

“It’s boring to watch but that’s exactly what we wanted,” Kenagy said, noting that the process went smoothly with no issues.

Prior to the start of the demolition, Kiewit West—the group awarded the project contract by the port—had to erect additional supports for the bridge, Kenagy said. On Friday, workers severed the dome-shaped steel structure on either end of the 410-foot-long main span in preparation for Saturday’s operation.

The main span of the old Gerald Desmond Bridge was slowly lowered onto a barge, which then transported it to another area of the Port of Long Beach for disassembly. Saturday, July 9, 2022. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

At 6 a.m. Saturday, the crew attached a strand jack system to each corner of the bridge. Once secure, the team cut through both ends of the section, which took several hours.

The 155-foot descent began around 12:30 p.m. and touched down on the barge below at around 9 p.m., according to port spokesman Lee Peterson. The barge then transported the section to another area of the port where it will be disassembled, with metal and other materials to be recycled or salvaged.

“This moment has been 20 years in the making, from the time we started planning to replace the Gerald Desmond with a taller, wider and safer bridge that would allow the Port of Long Beach to remain competitive for years to come,” port Executive Director Mario Cordero said in a statement.

A strand jack system was used to lower the 3,600-ton main span of the old Gerald Desmond Bridge onto a barge below Saturday, July 9, 2022. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

Opened in 1968, the old 5,134-foot-long through-arch bridge was named in honor of a former Long Beach city attorney and council member who helped secure its funding but died during its construction.

The bridge’s replacement, the Long Beach International Gateway Bridge, opened in October 2020, marking the end of the Gerald Desmond’s service to the port and the city.

“Like its predecessor, the new bridge is a critical link in the global supply chain and Southern California’s regional transportation network,” Cordero said.

The new bridge allows for ships as much as 50 feet taller to pass beneath and into the inner harbor, which is critical as vessels continue to get larger and demand at the port increases.

Kiewit West was awarded the bridge demolition contract in July 2021. Funding for the nearly $60 million project is included within the overall $1.57 billion budget for the design and construction of the International Gateway Bridge.

Demolition is slated for completion by the end of 2023.

Dwarfed by the new International Gateway Bridge, the dismantling of the old Gerald Desmond Bridge is officially underway. Saturday, July 9, 2022. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

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Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Business Journal.