More Bay Bridge traffic pain coming

Condolences to the tens of thousands of morning rush-hour commuters stuck in the westbound Bay Bridge crossing and forced to navigate a confusing new configuration of lanes and off-ramps. Regrettably, these Bay Bridge tie-ups will not abate through the rest of 2006, as Caltrans completes a particularly disruptive phase of the $429 million Western Approach Project.

Caltrans has done a good job of trying to inform motorists about the driving adjustments needed. Even so, when the westbound Bay Bridge lanes were first realigned after a weekend closure last October, two weeks were required before the bulk of morning commuters completely figured out the new routing and eased the downtown backups.

At least the reality of this week’s cross-bay commute turned out to be not nearly as bad as worst-case projections had suggested. Caltrans also got so much work accomplished during the lower deck shutdown in the early morning hours Sunday that next week’s scheduled two-night shutdown was cancelled.

BART carried 36,600 more weekend passengers than usual, including 8,700 riders during special all-night service while the bridge was closed. And the Monday morning BART commute showed a 3.7 percent increase over ordinary weekdays.

The next full lower-deck Bay Bridge shutdowns will not take place until October, when the main demolition of a mile of downtown/SoMa bridge approaches is scheduled. The purpose of this month’s shutdown and detours is to make preparations for the demolition, which will be happening within a few feet of SoMa buildings.

There will be no shortage of smaller but annoying traffic disruptions in downtown San Francisco this week and through the rest of the year. The busy First Street and Essex Street off-ramps will be closed intermittently and there will be westbound detours off 1-80. Some city streets and secondary ramps will be closed nights.

Concurrently with the seismic upgrade of the downtown approaches, both decks of the Bay Bridge are being resurfaced with a state-of-the-art concrete roadbed. This ongoing work involves closing one or two bridge lanes nightly and will also continue throughout 2006.

Transportation officials are attempting to offer viable options as well as advance warnings and suggestions for using alternate bridges. BART will again provide all-night hourly service to key stations on weekends when the bridge is closed, and Bay Area bus services are scheduling improved late-night BART station connections.

Still, as a result of all the temporary and permanent changes surrounding the Bay Bridge, drivers will be facing a plethora of frustrating challenges throughout the rest of 2006. Patience and flexibility behind the wheel will be a necessity.

But at least the worst of the cross-bay disruptions should be over by 2007. And when the Bay Bridge safety upgrades are finally completed, this vital transportation artery will be far less likely to be shut down entirely for a month, as it was after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

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