Frank Schweiger can still list off the injuries as if they occurred yesterday — broken femur, ruptured Achilles tendon, two broken feet and a broken left forearm — all the result of a head-on collision, suffered 24 years ago when he was crossing the Golden Gate Bridge.
“I was in O.R. for 13 straight hours,” said Schweiger, 70, who now lives in Novato. “My truck hit another truck head-on. The other guy’s truck was bigger. That pretty much was the situation.”
In some ways, Schweiger could be considered lucky. Since 1971, 36 drivers have lost their lives crossing the Bay Area’s iconic bridge.
To prevent such crossover traffic accidents, Golden Gate Bridge officials have been working on a plan for a median barrier that could be moved to accommodate traffic flow for more than two decades.
Currently, opposing traffic flow on the bridge is divided by a series of 19-inch tall rubber tubes, spaced 25 feet apart, according to the bridge’s Web site. Because traffic flow from north and southbound vehicles varies greatly during the workweek, the tubes are moved to different lanes on the bridge as frequently as four times a day, bridge spokeswoman Mary Currie said.
A new concrete barrier will also be moved frequently — towed into lane configurations by heavy-duty vehicles called zipper trucks. Because the new barrier is just a foot wide, it will not encroach upon vehicles traveling in the middle four lanes, which are only 10 feet in width — 2 feet thinner than most highway lanes, Currie said.
“This is the ultimate safety enhancement,” Currie said. “With the completion of this project we’ll have an actual divided lane [that] we’ve been pining for since the 1980s.”
The project will cost $25 million and take three years to complete. Environmental and engineering analyses are scheduled to begin, with the targeted completion date for the concrete-filled barrier set for 2010, Currie said.
This week, Golden Gate Bridge District officials approved paperwork in order to receive $20 million in regional and state funds administered by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. The final $5 million for the project would come from bridge toll revenues, MTC spokesperson John Goodwin said.
For many, the barrier is long overdue.
“There have been plans to put a barrier on the bridge for seven decades,” said San Anselmo resident Robert Guernsey, who helped organize the advisory group Citizens for a Safe Golden Gate Bridge. “I’m still a little skeptical now, but if a barrier does go in place, it will be a tremendous safety asset.”
36: Vehicle-collision deaths on Golden Gate Bridge since 1971
1.4 billion: Total vehicles crossing the bridge during that time span
0.64: Number of accidents per million vehicle miles traveled
Source: Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District