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CA-47 Vincent Thomas Bridge

Old Ferry Crowd


There has always been a need to cross the Los Angeles Harbor Main Channel, even as far back as the early 1870s, when the first ferry service consisted of a rowboat that made the trip to Terminal Island only as passengers were available. For decades, private ferry service was the only means of transport for island residents, cannery and shipyard workers, horses, wagons and automobiles.

A municipal ferry service began operating from the Sixth Street wharf in 1941. 

The daytime passenger/automobile ferry traveled at six knots, about seven miles per hour, and a second wooden, pedestrian-only ferry carried night-shift workers back and forth across the 1,000-foot channel. This round-trip cost five cents and was billed as the shortest and least expensive ferry service in the world.

As the Port of Los Angeles area grew and facilities were in increasing demand, the natural step was to develop Terminal Island. The bridge provided a vehicular connection between the port communities of San Pedro, Wilmington and Long Beach and Terminal Island. This led to the growth of shipping, shipbuilding and repair, production, refining and storage of crude oil and gasoline, generation and transmission of electric power, lumberyards, packinghouses and canneries and the opening of a naval base on the island.

During World War II, shipyards, Navy installations and federal facilities were expanded, increasing the flow of traffic to the island. In the decades following the war, further development at the Port of Los Angeles created the need for faster, more convenient access to Terminal Island, which had grown in size through landfill operations. 

From 1937 through 1957, various proposals were considered regarding construction of a tunnel under the Main Channel. Engineers concluded that a four-lane bridge could be built for slightly more than a two-lane tunnel. In 1958, the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners passed a resolution in support of the bridge construction and agreed to furnish rights of way.  


Vincent Thomas was born in Biloxi, Mississippi, the third of eight children of Croatian immigrants.His family moved to San Pedro when he was 10 years old. Thomas earned an athletic scholarship to Santa Clara University, where he coached boxing and other sports, and obtained a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1932. He earned his law degree from Loyola University in 1936. 

Thomas was successful in his first run for office in 1940, becoming the State Assemblyman for the 68th District representing San Pedro. While in the Assembly, Thomas worked to improve the California commercial fishing industry, and to provide programs for public recreation, senior citizen services, the disabled, transportation and education.

By 1963, when the bridge opened, Thomas had the longest record of service in the Assembly and was known affectionately as “Dean of the Assembly.” He served 19 consecutive terms for a total of 38 years. Thomas regarded completion of the bridge as the greatest accomplishment of his career. To honor his foresight and untiring work that culminated in its construction, in 1961, the California Legislature passed Concurrent Resolution 131 naming the bridge for Vincent Thomas.


 --  Fourth longest suspension bridge in California, after the Golden Gate Bridge, Carquinez Bridge, and San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, respectively.

 --  First welded (not riveted) suspension bridge in the United States.

 -- Only suspension bridge in the world supported entirely on piles.

 -- Named after Assemblyman Vincent Thomas of San Pedro. In 1961, the California Legislature passed a special measure to name the structure after Thomas in honor of his persistence and faith in the bridge's future success.

 -- Designed by the Bridge Department of the California Division of Highways, now known as Caltrans, which owns and maintains the bridge.

 -- Encompasses 2.2 miles of Los Angeles County Route CA-47.
 -- Required 92,000 tons of Portland cement, 13,000 tons of lightweight concrete, 14,100 tons of steel and 1,270 tons of suspension cable to construct. 

 -- When the Bridge opened in 1963, a 25-cent toll was collected in each direction. On grand opening day, Assemblyman Thomas paid the first toll. In 1983, the toll increased to 50 cents for westbound traffic and was free for eastbound traffic. In 2000, the Bridge was considered “paid for” and the toll was repealed.

 -- Painting the bridge is a routine and continuous maintenance job, handled by Caltrans, which requires 1,500 gallons of zinc, 500 gallons of primer and 1,000 gallons of green paint to cover the span.

 -- In 1996, the Los Angeles City Council declared the Vincent Thomas Bridge as the City of Los Angeles’ official welcoming monument.

East Brige View

Opened to traffic:   

November 15, 1963  
Tower Height: 365 feet; 185 feet (35 stories) above water  
Length: 6,060 feet (2.2 miles)  
Width (Roadway): 52 feet  
Deck: 6.5 inches of concrete  
Center Suspension Span: 1,500 feet  

East/West Tower Spans:

506 feet   
Anchor Weight: 23,000 tons each (two anchors)  

San Pedro Approach:

1,838 feet
Terminal Island Approach: 1,712 feet  
Vertical Clearance: 185 feet
Cables: 19; 11 interior and 8 exterior  
Cable Wires: 212 per cable  
Steel Piles: 90 – each supporting 145 tons  
Seismic Sensors: 26
Traffic Lanes: Four – two westbound and two eastbound  
Traffic Count: 32,000 vehicles each weekday  
Construction Cost: $21 million  

Promenade Bridge LIghts

Light Color: Blue
Light Type: Clusters of tiny light-emitting diodes (LEDs)
Number of Lights: 160 lamps on the bridge; 360 LEDs per lamp  
Lamp Size:  Five millimeters in diameter  
Lamp Brightness:   Equivalent to 150-watt incandescent bulb  

Power Use:

20 watts total (low usage + high-intensity light output)  

Powered by:

4.5-kilowatt solar panel system – each panel is two feet wide and four feet long and generates 10 watts of electric power per square foot  


Solid-state circuitry and robust construction enables LED lamps to withstand ocean gales and corrosive sea air for years of maintenance-free operation 
Average Life: 100,000 operating hours – LED lamps last 30-50 times longer than incandescent lamps and deliver a power savings of 80-90% compared to traditional lights.  
Environment:    Will not disrupt migratory birds
Will not burden the power grid
Project Cost: $1,002,657.81
Schedule:   Lights turned on from dusk to midnight every night, per California Coastal Commission requirements
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