Vincent Thomas Bridge ready for overhaul

In recent decades, much attention and $1.5 billion have been invested in replacing the Gerald Desmond Bridge, which connects the Port of Long Beach to the City of Long Beach and the 710 Freeway. Now it is the turn of the Vincent Thomas Bridge, which connects Terminal Island in 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 in construction, to replace the highway deck on the 60-year-old bridge. The agency is now holding initial public comment sessions for the project, which could start 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 for the state Assemblyman who championed the bridge project) was the country’s first welded suspension bridge. His goal was to connect the loading docks on Terminal Island with the homes and shops of dock workers in San Pedro; until then, the only way to travel between those points was by ferry.

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

All of that vehicular travel has taken its toll: Caltrans has released photos of the bridge showing cracks in the concrete deck and debris indicating that part of the deck has broken completely.

But breaking and then replacing the platform for such a vital transportation artery will cause great hardship for area workers, port workers and other port and shipping line personnel. That is why Caltrans has proposed three alternatives for construction:

• A complete shutdown for up to one year with construction work ongoing 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; either

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

• Partial closure for up to three years of one lane in each direction during night hours and prolonged closures on weekends.

Depending on which option is chosen, the project could conclude in 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 drivers could take if the bridge were to close completely or become clogged during periods of partial closure. The primary alternative would include going through Wilmington and then taking the Terminal Island Bridge (also known as State Route 47) to Terminal Island.

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

Caltrans has indicated that it will publish a draft environmental impact report on the project by the end of the year; that report may contain the agency’s recommendation as to which of the build options to implement. Another round of public comment will then begin, which should lead to the submission of a final environmental impact report within about a year.

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