Caltrans: Speed to blame for bridge fatality, not design

The accident-prone new S-curve on the Bay Bridge turned deadly Monday, but transit and public safety officials insist it’s speeding — not a design flaw — that’s causing accidents.

The latest of the 44 accidents that have occurred since the new stretch of the eastern span was installed during Labor Day weekend happened when a 56-year-old truck driver from Hayward lost control of his vehicle at the beginning of the curve at 3:30 a.m. The truck jumped the guardrail, flipped over the side of the bridge’s upper deck and plummeted 200 feet to Yerba Buena Island, California Highway Patrol Sgt. Trent Cross said.

The driver, who has not been identified, sustained fatal injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene. The truck became a pile of mangled debris.

The three-axle big rig, which was carrying pears, was driving about 50 mph in a 40 mph zone before the crash, Cross said.

In the aftermath of the crash, the California Department of Transportation will move forward with installing signs on the bridge to warn drivers to slow down at the new curve.

Larger improvements — such as installing a higher guardrail or funneling traffic to fewer lanes — are not being considered, Caltrans spokesman Bart Ney said.

“We’re basically putting in everything we can think of now,” he said.

Ney attempted to reassure motorists rattled by the bridge’s rash of issues recently.

“We absolutely have not lost control of the Bay Bridge,” he said. “The Bay Bridge is safe.”

The driver in the fatal accident was an independent operator who bought the big rig several months ago from California Tank Lines Inc. of Stockton, CHP Officer Tony Tam said.

The bridge’s 50 mph speed limit drops to 40 mph at the start of the S-curve, with a maximum of 35 mph recommended on the sharpest turns, Cross said. Witnesses say the truck was traveling about 50 mph when the crash happened.

“That’s the issue,” Cross said. “Ten miles per hour over the speed limit might not seem like a big deal, but the results are someone losing his life and falling 200 feet. Ten miles per hour is a big deal.”

Cross has said that “the design is not part of the problem.” The problem is motorists who fail to stick to the 40 mph speed limit, he said.

“In every single [accident], excessive speed has been the cause,” Cross said. “On a day-to-day basis, thousands of motorists travel safely across the Bay Bridge. A small percentage of people ignore the posted speed limits.”

The incident caused only minor, superficial damage to the bridge.

S-curve precaution measures

Planned improvements

  • Installation of 6-inch reflective striping along the S-curve’s guardrail
  • Radar sign telling drivers how fast they are going
  • Large sign above traffic lanes warning drivers to slow down
     

Improvements during emergency closure

  • Reflectors and raised bumps installed
  • Grit surface laid down at start of S-curve to provide traction

Source: Caltrans

tbarak@sfexaminer.com

Bay Area NewsBay BridgeCHPLocalTransittransportation

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