S.F. cut off from East Bay for a weekend

Caltrans expects project to go smoothly, span to reopen by Tuesday

As motorists brace for long detours and revelers turn to BART’s all-night service, Caltrans is hoping all will go smoothly as it undertakes a massive demolition project that has closed the eastbound span of the Bay Bridge over the long weekend.

“It’s going to be a challenge to get everything done, but I don't think it’ll be a problem for us to finish by Tuesday,” California Department of Transportation spokesman Bart Ney said.

Caltrans has been working to upgrade the western approach to the bridge — the freeway system that runs through downtown San Francisco — since 2003. The project is slated to last until 2009, and when it’s finished drivers can expect a safer approach, with side-by-side roadways instead of the current stacked formation.

“When it comes to the part where you have to get on the double-deck suspension bridge, the upper deck and the lower deck are supported on independent foundations. So in an earthquake they’ll move independently of one another,” Ney said.

This weekend, workers are demolishing about 1,000 feet of elevated freeway as the old approach makes way for the new. The job will include removal of 9,000 cubic yards of concrete and steel, almost 400,000 pounds of material. The lower deck of the bridge was scheduled to close at midnight Friday and reopen at 5 a.m. Tuesday.

“The biggest change is that, come Tuesday morning, motorists heading eastbound will see sunlight for the first time in 70 years,” Ney said.

The demolition work is expected to be finished by Sunday, with Monday and early Tuesday morning dedicated to cleanup. Work will continue around the clock, Ney said.

If the work can’t be completed, “It depends on what comes up. If for some reason a column won’t come out, for example, we make sure we’ve got it into a safe configuration — like it’s not sticking into traffic or something. We clean up around it and keep going with the project. But I really don't think you’re going to see any issue like that,” Ney said.

As for the closure’s effect on The City’s businesses, Jim Lazarus, San Francisco Chamber of Commerce vice president in charge of public policy, said The City’s economy won’t take too big a hit.

“From a business point of view, who’s going to shows, who’s shopping downtown, you’ve got a larger universe of people staying in The City,” he said. While traffic will be reduced from the East Bay, Lazarus expects more San Franciscans to stay in town. “There’s a trade-off and because of that, we haven’t heard much crying about it,” he said.

San Francisco hotels reported their reservations are at a normal level for this time of year.

“There are a lot of Bay Area locals who are staying here at least one night as part of their holiday,” Four Seasons spokeswoman Lauren Eastman said. “I don't know if it’s necessarily connected to the bridge closure.”

Troy Hammer, spokesman for the York Hotel, said reservations are not up from normal, but, “It will be interesting to see whether more people decide to extend their stay or if we have a lot of walk-ins,” due to drivers being caught off-guard by the closure.

But Convention and Visitors’ Bureau spokeswoman Laurie Armstrong said, “We do feel pretty confident that every effort has been made to notify people.”

amartin@examiner.comBay Area NewsLocal

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