New San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge on track to open

September 2, 2013

Crews are on pace to put the finishing touches on a new stretch of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, and the span should be ready to open as planned early this week, officials say.

When traffic flows across the new eastern part of the span for the first time, it will do so nearly a quarter-century after a deadly earthquake during the 1989 World Series collapsed two 50-foot sections of the old structure.

The 6.9-magnitude Loma Prieta quake hit just as millions tuned in to watch Game 3 of the “Bay Bridge World Series” between the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants. The earthquake killed 63 people and caused up to $10 billion in damage.

The Bay Bridge failure, one of the temblor’s most memorable images, prompted one of the costliest public works projects in state history. The $6.4 billion project finally draws to a close after decades of political bickering, engineering challenges and billions in cost overruns. Transportation officials say the bridge should be ready to open as scheduled by 5 a.m. Tuesday after being closed for five days.

The years of past delays magnified public safety concerns over the need for a permanent solution as the original, seismically unsafe bridge was patched up and continued operating.

Highlighting the decades of complications, the scheduled opening of the reworked bridge was in jeopardy again this year after crews discovered dozens of defective rods used to anchor the road to important earthquake safety structures. The bridge will open with a temporary fix for these broken rods while the permanent repair, expected to be completed in December, is being installed.

Issues with the rods and myriad delays have left many commuters with a feeling of trepidation about the bridge, even though state officials say it’s one of the safest in the world.

The self-anchored suspension bridge, which has a looming, single white tower, was designed to endure 150 years and withstand the strongest earthquake estimated by seismologists to occur at the site over a 1,500-year period.

Steve Heminger, chairman of the Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee, the project’s watchdog, said the span is orders of magnitude safer than the current crossing.

“Some bridges in California have been built not to collapse in an earthquake, but they may be out of service,” Heminger said. “We couldn’t have that with the Bay Bridge, which is not only pivotal to the economy but also plays a critical role in helping us recover.”

“I’m not here to suggest that there weren’t construction challenges along the way, but they have been dealt with.”

Bridge officials say the public will come around to the new bridge. It is wider, with five roomy lanes on each section. The new span was also built with road shoulders — room for stalled vehicles that will help improve traffic flow.

— Associated Press

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