Crash leaves San Mateo Bridge in chaos

The fragility of the Bay Area traffic system was highlighted Tuesday when a three-truck accident brought the morning commute crashing down, delaying some drivers by more than five hours and overloading already crowded highways and bridges.

With the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge section of westbound state Route 92 closed from 7 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., nearly 20,000 vehicles that would normally use the bridge were diverted north or south along Highway 880. That traffic was sent to the already congested Dumbarton and Bay bridges, and turned southbound 880 into a parking lot from Hayward into San Leandro.

“We’ve only got eight arteries, and those have to cover the Bay from Antioch to the Dumbarton, so every one of these is a vital inter-regional connection,” said Metropolitan Transportation Commission spokesman John Goodwin. “When you lose one, bad things happen.”

More than 72,000 people commute daily between Alameda and San Francisco counties, and that number is expected to rise to 81,000 by 2010, nearly 101,000 by 2020 and 118,000 by 2030, according to MTC county-to-county community statistics.

The San Mateo-Hayward Bridge carries just more than 50,000 vehicles daily, and nearly 34,000 of those cross before 2 p.m. daily. By 2 p.m. Tuesday, only 15,788 vehicles had traveled through the toll plazas.

“This caught thousands of people in mid-trip, and even if they decided ‘to heck with it,’ and took BART, chances are that on a Tuesday morning the parking lot was already full,” Goodwin said. “It certainly shows the value of alternate routes, and it shows the value of the ability to plan ahead.”

San Mateo Marriott Sales Manager Brandi Hardy said she sat in traffic for almost an hour before her boss called her and told her to just “turn around and go home.” She finally left for work at 1 p.m. and there was still residual traffic along the way.

By 11:30 a.m., two westbound lanes reopened. The 7 a.m. accident left three people injured. They were sent to Stanford Medical Center. Two of the victims were seriously injured. Cleanup crews worked until almost 1 p.m. Tuesday to fully clear the road of debris and spilled concrete and lye.

Two teachers at Foster City’s Kids Connection were more than four hours late to work, according to its owner, Foster City Councilwoman Linda Koelling.

Aside from a few office staff members and support staff, most of the San Mateo-Foster City School District managed to avoid any delays from the traffic delays.

“We were pretty fortunate — people must have found alternative ways to come to work, so we were not heavily affected,” Assistant Superintendent Joan Rosas said.

Castillo said the crash is still under investigation, but cleanup efforts were apparently successful, preventing residents from inhaling any lye and keeping the caustic substance out of the bay.

jgoldman@examiner.com

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