Bay Bridge closure not expected to devastate regional commute 

click to enlarge The new eastern span of the Bay Bridge is set to open Sept. 3 after years of delays and a more recent controversy over cracked seismic safety bolts. - JUSTIN SULLIVAN/2009 GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO
  • Justin Sullivan/2009 Getty Images file photo
  • The new eastern span of the Bay Bridge is set to open Sept. 3 after years of delays and a more recent controversy over cracked seismic safety bolts.

The inconvenience posed by the Bay Bridge closure this Labor Day weekend shouldn't be any worse than in years past and will allow for the finishing touches on the long-anticipated new eastern span, officials said.

At 8 p.m. Wednesday, the bridge will close for five days, with crews expected to connect the new span to the toll plaza on the east end and to the Yerba Buena Island tunnel on the west end in anticipation of its debut at 5 a.m. Sept. 3.

On the first night, workers will begin demolishing the westbound approach to the bridge to make room for the temporary connector to the bike and pedestrian path. They also will be grinding and paving roadway and removing old lights for new LED ones in the tunnel.

Maintenance and inspections throughout the corridor will continue Thursday. On Friday, a polyester overlay on the tunnel will be applied. Demolition is expected to be completed Saturday, with installation of the temporary pathway and striping taking place Sunday and finishing up Monday. Also on Monday, a barrier rail will be installed on the pathway.

Finally, cleanup is expected to be finished early Tuesday before the new span opens to traffic.

"The work to be done doesn't sound like a lot, but it's also time dependent," said Bay Bridge spokesman Andrew Gordon. "Asphalt has to set. Then you paint the lane lines and that needs to dry. Everyone is working 24/7 until this bridge opens."

The bridge, which accommodates nearly 300,000 motorists daily, closed for construction the same holiday weekend in 2009, 2007 and 2006. Compared with other holidays, Labor Day sees "one of the lighter weekends of travel" and dry weather ideal for roadwork, Gordon said.

BART will run round-the-clock Wednesday through Monday morning and "is clearly going to be the best choice" for getting around, said Metropolitan Transportation Commission spokesman John Goodwin.

As of Sunday, the posting for BART employees to sign up for added hours had not gone up, but transit agency spokeswoman Alicia Trost is confident needs will be met.

"Whether it's the Giants' World Series parade or Pride Parade weekend or other bridge closures, whenever we need to beef up our service we've never had a problem with people not signing up," she said.

Live traffic information can be found by dialing 511 or visiting www.511.org. The San Francisco Bay Ferry and Golden Gate Ferry systems will offer additional service. For motorists detouring to the Golden Gate Bridge, Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, San Mateo-Hayward Bridge and Dumbarton Bridge, traffic should not be worse than previous years.

"Alternate routes certainly will have heavier traffic, but the fact is that the region is not grinding to a halt," Goodwin said. "It'll be slower going, but if history is a guide mobility will be maintained."

The bridge opening, originally delayed for months due to cracked bolts, got the OK for Sept. 3 a couple of weeks ago when the Federal Highway Administration signed off on installing steel plates by the bolts as a temporary fix.

Still, the fix has been deemed unsafe by Abolhassan Astaneh-Asl, a structural engineering professor at UC Berkeley and one of only a handful of experts who have publicly criticized the new span's design. The steel plates cannot resist the seismic force of an earthquake and make the bridge even more hazardous, he said.

"It is mind-boggling to me that knowing all of this information, Caltrans would open the bridge just to meet political deadlines or whatever deadlines they have," Astaneh-Asl said. "They are putting public safety knowingly in my opinion in jeopardy because they know the bolts can break and the bridge can collapse."

A rundown of the shutdown

Traffic information:

• Live updates and conditions on roads throughout the Bay Area can be found at www.sfexaminer.com/traffic.

• Commute and other transit information can be found at www.511.org.

Use caution:

• Drivers are advised to be extra cautious on their first trip on the new bridge. "It will be a very different experience for drivers" because traffic flow will improve, curves will be more subtle and graceful, and eastbound drivers will have great views of the Port of Oakland and the East Bay hills, said Bay Bridge spokesman Andrew Gordon. In fact, Gordon said, the views will be so good that bridge officials are warning drivers to keep their eyes on the road and leave "the gawking for their passengers."

About those views:

• The new span will have parallel side-by-side decks, in contrast to the current stacked setup of east- and westbound decks. "Driving will feel more wide open," Gordon said.

Other details:

• The new span will have five lanes in each direction, as the current span does, but there also will be two shoulders in each direction, which means stalls and accidents won't clog the bridge as often as they currently do, Gordon said. In addition, maintenance work can be done without closing lanes.

Know where to go:

• Gordon said drivers who usually use the Bay Bridge but plan to use other spans during the closure should learn about the geography in those other areas so they don't get lost.

Avoiding roads:

• BART plans to run 24-hour train service from Thursday through the night of Sept. 2. Regular service will resume about 4 a.m. Sept. 3. Overnight service will be available hourly at 14 stations between the Concord and San Francisco International Airport stations and between the El Cerrito Del Norte and Dublin/Pleasanton stations. Oakland's MacArthur Station will serve as a transfer point for both lines. On Labor Day, BART will be on a Saturday schedule. There will be free parking Saturday, Sunday and the Monday holiday.

• AC Transit buses that normally carry passengers across the Bay Bridge will be diverting to one of four BART stations — the Coliseum, West Oakland, MacArthur and North Berkeley.

No governor:

• Gov. Jerry Brown will not attend the opening of the new Bay Bridge on Sept. 3. A spokesman for the governor said Brown will be on an out-of-state family trip "and will be gone through Labor Day."

About The Author

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong

Bio:
Jessica Kwong covers transportation, housing, and ethnic communities, among other topics, for the San Francisco Examiner. She covered City Hall as a fellow for the San Francisco Chronicle, night cops and courts for the San Antonio Express-News, general news for Spanish-language newspapers La Opinión and El Mensajero,... more
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