A Bridge Too Far (A reprint of our November 3, 2004 commentary … four years ago today.)
Ordinarily it wouldn’t be fair to pick out and pick on just one of the U.S. container ports, but since the Port of Long Beach plays such an important part in the movement of containers in and out of the country, and because so much is being reported about congestion and other newsworthy happenings in and around the port, this commentary will be devoted to that San Pedro location.
A few years before container terminals gained prominence, National Steel was busily scrapping decommissioned Navy vessels at the site, and the owner of National Steel, Mr. Joe Shapiro, would often go out of his way to teach and even treat the “navy guys” who hung around to pick his brain. Meetings convened in time for lunch at the “Princess”, a much smaller regent than the Queen now reigning, and sea stories were swapped. Real sea stories. As each vessel was being dismantled Mr. Shapiro made certain that the name plates of each of the heroic naval ships were preserved and mounted in his office, and his sentimental visitors spent long hours reminiscing about service aboard those valiant warships. Some of us had even experienced the euphoria of watching those ships as they were being built. And then we were forlorn as we watched them die.
One of the most remarkable structures in all of Southern California in those days was the imposing Gerald Desmond Bridge. It took your breath away. It was state of the art and almost brand new. It would outlive us all, we thought, and our suspicions in this regard were assured when seismic improvements were undertaken and completed just a little while ago… we thought. Well, maybe it won’t outlive us after all. Word of the Gerald Desmond Bridge Replacement Project have begun to make the rounds, and it appears as though port authorities are quite serious about the endeavor. When a figure of $ 700 million is published, then you know the authorities are quite serious. The funds are not yet in the bank, however, so until that date arrives there’s still time for more analysis.
So now another man-made historic wonder is slated to be dismantled. Not scrapped, mind you, but dismantled. Those storied navy vessels were never scrapped either. That word, “scrapped”, is now and always was an indignity. Like the Gerald Desmond Bridge those vessels rendered a service to society, and with the passing of those valiant ships memories of their service are fading away.
But with respect to (and for) the Bridge, let’s wait a bit. Let the jury sit a bit. There are a few things to be considered that might sway them. San Pedro has seen the final days of many steel giants, and those moments were mostly sad ones. Don’t stand by and watch this one die. You’ll feel it in the pit of your stomach. It was born in 1968 and has yet to see its fortieth birthday, so it’s still young. The heavy burdens imposed upon it in recent years were not anticipated back in its planning days, but seismic stresses weren’t considered back then either. Accommodations for these seismic stresses were made, though, so quite possibly accommodations can be made in this present situation as well. Let’s look at a replay. The officials can reverse their decision, you know.
$ 700 million is a lot of money.