Part of MacArthur Maze to reopen today

Although still black from soot, the portion of southbound Interstate 880 charred in a gasoline-tanker explosion a week ago is expected to reopen to commuters today, about three days ahead of schedule, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Sunday.

State transit officials are also planning to select a contractor today to rebuild the destroyed eastbound Interstate 580 overpass. They hope to have that project completed in just seven weeks or less.

To open I-880 by 5 a.m. today, Caltrans workers shored the freeway deck, which dropped about 9 inches, with stabilizing beams, repaired the guardrails, straightened the freeway’s girders and repaved the deck with polyester concrete.

Caltrans, which oversees the state’s highways, also conducted a series of tests on the damaged portion of I-880 for fractures and strength and used chemicals to assess the level of heat damage.

Workers determined that damage to the freeway was minimal, and Schwarzenegger announced that I-880 would bereopened to commuters by Wednesday. Sunday, however, Schwarzenegger said the freeway — which is part of the MacArthur Maze interchange of three interstates used by 75,000 drivers daily — would open even earlier.

“More work still needs to be done, and we will work day and night until the rest of the MacArthur Maze has been repaired,” the governor said in a statement.

Caltrans Director Will Kempton said that while the stabilizing beams will not be removed right away, the structure is “as strong as it was before the accident.”

“No corners were cut,” he said Sunday. “I would bring my family over this bridge.”

On April 29, a gasoline tanker crashed on the ramp connecting westbound Interstate 80 to southbound I-880, spilling 8,600 gallons of gasoline. Investigators have said skid marks at the crash scene suggest the driver, James Mosqueda, of Woodland, was speeding before the tanker overturned and burst into flames.

The fire reached 2,750 degrees, causing the I-580 overpass to collapse onto the I-880 connector.

A contractor for the I-580 rebuild project will be selected by the end of today, giving an estimate for how much it will cost to repair the freeway, Kempton said.

The federal government has already agreed to pay $8.8 million in preliminary costs for repairs, including $4.3 million for the demolition of the collapsed I-580, $2 million for the interstate closures and $2.5 million for the state-sponsored free public transit the day after the crash.

Kempton said it remains unclear how much it has cost to reopen I-880. The federal government, however, has authorized $20 million for Caltrans to rebuild I-580. Caltrans will pay the selected contractor $200,000 for each day the project is finished before June 27, but take away $200,000 for each day the project is delayed.

arocha@examiner.com

Bay Area NewsLocal

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