Governor: Interstate 880 will be back

Commuters can expect the portion of southbound Interstate 880 that was charred in an explosion and fire four days ago to reopen in less than 10 days, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced Wednesday.

However, the eastbound Interstate 580 overpass that was destroyed in the Sunday morning disaster will take “several months” to rebuild, Schwarzenegger said, though it’s still unclear how it will be paid for.

Test results released Wednesday, after technicians took 3- to 4-inch samples of the concrete roadway and analyzed them for internal cracks, determined that damage to I-880 was minimal.

To reopen the freeway, workers will shore the deck, which dropped nine inches, with temporary supports, cut the girders to release the deck so it can be jacked up to the proper level and do some resurfacing, officials said.

“We’ve done all of the testing that we think is necessary on the lower structure,” Caltrans Director Will Kempton said at a press conference Wednesday with the governor. “The concrete is sound. The steel is retaining its tensile strength.”

On the burned stretch of I-880, Caltrans workers conducted chemical tests to determine the level of heat damage and used a special hammer that sends shockwaves into the concrete to test for fractures.

Thomas Pyle, a Caltrans concrete specialist, said the chemical tests have shown “severe heat damage in some areas.” Some of the concrete turned salmon pink when tested with the chemical phenolphthalein, meaning it suffered heat damage of at least 550 degrees.

Early Sunday morning, a gasoline tanker traveling on the connector between eastbound I-80 and southbound I-880 slammed into a guardrail, causing 8,600 gallons of unleaded gasoline to burst into flames.

The intensity of the fire, which reached up to 2,750 degrees, caused 750 feet of the elevated eastbound I-580 overpass to buckle and slam down on the southbound I-880 connector.

The crash shut down two major portions of the MacArthur Maze, an interchange of three separate freeways used by 75,000 drivers every day accessing the Bay Bridge.

The federal government has agreed to pick up the preliminary costs associated with the tanker crash, which have so far climbed to $8.8 million, including $4.3 million for demolishing the destroyed portion of I-580, $2 million for interstate closures and $2.5 million for Monday’s state-sponsored free public transit.

There is still no estimate, however, for how much it will cost to rebuild I-580 or repair I-880, officials said. Caltrans is waiting to hear from the federal government about how much of the cost will be reimbursed.

Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger directed Caltrans to use incentive-based contracts — in which contractors are given extra cash for beating projected timelines to finish work — for both projects.

The design on I-580 will be completed today, and Caltrans plans to put that project out to bid early next week, according to Mark DeSio, deputy director of external affairs for Caltrans.

Commuters concerned about I-580 repair timeline

Transbay commuters called it “good news” that the Interstate 880 connector damaged early Sunday morning would reopen within 10 days but said the real problem was the collapsed I-580 connector.

With the destroyed I-580 ramp, which connects I-80 eastbound to I-580 eastbound, afternoon traffic backs up on the Bay Bridge, as drivers take alternate routes to arrive home. Carpoolers in The City headed to the East Bay said that the I-580 connector was the problem for them because the I-880 ramp connecting I-80 westbound to I-880 southbound is mostly used by drivers traveling down the East Bay.

“That’s good news,” commuter Kareem Gassama said of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s announcement Wednesday about the MacArthur Maze repairs.

Gassama carpools to Hercules from his downtown job and has done so for the last year. He and other commuters said traffic into The City has been fine since the early Sunday morning crash.

“On our way back [out of The City], traffic has been really bad” because of the missing portion of the I-580 connector, Gassama said.

In a press conference announcing the reopening, Schwarzenegger said that the I-580 ramp would take several months to fix.

The announcement came on the same day that BART said it had a carried a record-setting number of people on its trains Tuesday, demolishing a record set in 2000.

Commuters seeking to avoid the MacArthur Maze have taken to public transit, especially BART, in a big way, even causing parking problems at stations all over the Bay Area. The transit agency’s Tuesday ridership was 375,200 people, roughly 35,000 more than its average weekday ridership of 340,000.

On Oct. 4, 2000, the Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants had playoff home games on the same night, and BART posted a ridership total of 374,900 that day — it’s highest until Tuesday.

BART officials also noted that even with the dramatic jump in riders, trains were still on time 94 percent of the time.

– David Smith

Bay Area NewsLocal

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