Big Labor Day bridge detour

Do you know the Bay Bridge will be shut down in both directions for the entire Labor Day weekend, starting at 8 tonight?

Of course you know. If you drove anywhere on Bay Area highways in the last few weeks, you might have thought you were seeing electronic billboards flash the bridge closure warning every hundred yards or so. Or perhaps you picked up one of the 600,000 glossy color brochures.

The California Department of Transportation has spent nearly

$1 million doing a laudably thorough job of ensuring that every motorist who might possibly take regional roads during this three-day weekend will be fully aware that the main link across San Francisco Bay has a detour sign up all weekend.

The omnipresent publicity announcements seem unprecedented. But so is closing off the entire Bay Bridge for three days and four nights of repairs. The heavily traveled bridge has not been totally inaccessible since an eastern span section collapsed during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

Since the quake, other overnight closures have been required for the lengthy $6 billion seismic retrofit. And last Labor Day the bridge’s eastbound level was closed for the entire holiday weekend. Caltrans insists its traffic statistics indicate that Labor Day is the lightest-traveled weekend for the bridge.

Bay Area drivers acquitted themselves well during all these shutdowns, and the regional disruptions were relatively minor. Our urban motorists were resourceful enough to figure out effective alternate trip routings via the San Mateo or Richmond-San Rafael bridges or by riding BART, buses or ferries.

However, this weekend’s transbay detour is potentially the most disruptive traffic challenge yet. Not only is it the bridge rebuild’s lengthiest two-way shutdown, but also the Bay Area is hosting a particularly rich assortment of holiday events expected to attract tens of thousands of attendees apiece — including the Summer of Love 40th anniversary free concert in Golden Gate Park.

Caltrans explains that the coming weekend’s full shutdown is necessary because an entire 350-by-90-foot bridge section must be demolished so the replacement section — already constructed alongside on temporary columns — can be rolled into place. Bay Area transportation agencies have blueprints for extra transit backup in case the whole job is unfinished before sunrise Tuesday, when post-summer-employment commuting returns to peak levels.

However, there is ample reason for optimism with redoubtable contractor CC Meyers on the job. Myers’ Sacramento company got the collapsed MacArthur Maze reopened in a spectacular 18 days this May.

Next time the Bay Bridge must be closed, BART’s all-night service and the necessary feeder bus coordination could be handled better. Caltrans pays for the after-midnight hourly trains and only 14 stations are served. That is insufficient to compensate the public for its inconvenience caused by the three-day bridge closure.

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