Streams

No Driving Across SF Bay, as Old Bridge Closes To Make Way for New

Thursday, August 29, 2013 - 09:36 AM

KALW
The new eastern span of the Bay Bridge, which opens to traffic on Tuesday, September 3 (Isabel Angell)

At 8 p.m. last night, the last car drove across the original eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. If everything goes according to schedule, the new, blinding white span will open to the public on Tuesday morning at 5 a.m. Pacific Time. 

The closure gives construction crews time to finally connect the freeway and island approaches to the new bridge. With the Bay Area’s busiest bridge closed, hundreds of thousands of commuters will be looking for a different way across the Bay.

BART is running 24-hour limited service throughout the closure, so people can use public transit to go between San Francisco and the East Bay in the middle of the night. There will also be extra ferries to handle commuters. Coincidentally, the Bay Area Bike Share launched today, and that might provide a last-mile alternative to people who usually drive.

The bridge will open with little fanfare—there won’t be the big party officials promised. Instead, officials will celebrate with a traditional chain cutting ceremony on Monday, the bridge-opening equivalent of a ribbon-cutting. Governor Jerry Brown will be notably absent, after he made Labor Day plans to be in Michigan.

This Labor Day closure almost didn’t happen, even though the project has been planned for the last few years. In July, bridge officials delayed the opening indefinitely because of broken seismic safety bolts discovered on the bridge in March. The long-term solution still won’t be ready until at least December, but an independent engineer proposed an interim fix that made the Labor Day opening possible.

The new eastern span has been plagued by delays and cost overruns since 1996, when the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) elected to replace the bridge over a retrofit. Back then, Caltrans estimated the bridge would cost about $1.3 billion and open to the public in 2004. But political bickering, rising steel and construction costs, and the decision to build a “signature span” delayed the bridge almost a decade and increased the cost to $6.4 billion.

The new span is supposed to last 135 years, through the next major earthquake. For drivers who can’t wait until Tuesday, Caltrans is offering a video of what it will look like to drive on the new bridge.

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