East Bay braces for bridge shutdown

on September 2, 2009

With the Bay Bridge closed for Labor Day weekend, the 280,000 people who usually use the bridge to cross San Francisco Bay will have to find ways to travel under, around or above it instead.  Some are choosing to stay home, but the rest will crowd into BART trains, on to local ferries, or be forced to draw up alternative routes across other area bridges.

John McClelland, owner of San Francisco Helicopter Tours, said that so far nobody’s asked him to plan an airlift over the likely traffic mess Friday morning.

Wednesday morning's traffic snare.

Wednesday morning's traffic snare.

But his company is standing by. “If there’s an emergency,” McClelland said, “business might call.”

As anyone who has been near a television, radio or Caltrans message board during the past month knows by now, the Bay Bridge is closing for special construction on Thursday, September 3 at 8 p.m. It is scheduled to remain closed through the Labor Day weekend and reopen on Tuesday, September 8 at 5 a.m.

Metropolitan Transportation Commission spokesman John Goodwin encourages North Oakland commuters to use the public transit system this Friday to alleviate roadway congestion.

“North Oakland is enormously well-suited to take advantage of the additional BART service, so my advice to neighbors in North Oakland is to use BART or use the ferry from Jack London Square,” Goodwin said. “My strongest recommendation for everyone in the region is to arm yourself with information – go to 511.org or call 511 for transportation options.”

During the bridge closure, a 300-foot long double-deck section of the east span will be removed and a new double-deck section inserted to create a slight detour. This detour, which will remain in place until 2013, will allow crews to build a permanent connection from the Yerba Buena Island tunnel to the bridge’s new east span.

Similar seismic retrofit projects closed the bridge during the 2006 and 2007 Labor Day weekends. However, Friday marks the first day Caltrans has deliberately closed the bridge for construction during a workweek.

Caltrans public information officer Lauren Wonder says the bridge closure’s impact on traffic is uncertain, but that Caltrans has made preparations to alleviate backups. These include opening up lanes on I-238 that are under construction and managing traffic near the I-880/westbound Hwy 92 interchange.

“It’s hard to predict how many people will be displaced, because it’s a holiday weekend,” Wonder said. “We do expect some delays at toll plazas because there is more traffic there and those are natural bottlenecks, but we’re trying to redirect traffic by opening up other ramps and lanes that otherwise would be closed.”

While drivers have the option of using either the San Mateo-Hayward or Richmond-San Rafael bridges during the Bay Bridge closure, Caltrans is encouraging people to use public transportation or telecommute if possible.

“We’re really trying to manage traffic,” Wonder said.  “There’s usually less traffic on the bridge during Labor Day weekend with people traveling out of town, but this year it will be better if people travel on BART, buses or ferries.”

BART will keep fourteen stations open 24 hours a day during the bridge closure. In addition, the Alameda Harbor Bay Ferry and the Alameda/Oakland Ferry will increase service to San Francisco through the Labor Day weekend. AC Transit will provide detours for its transbay service.

The loss of the Bay Bridge doesn’t mean people in the East Bay need to scale back their social calendars. Oakland residents looking for entertainment on their side of the Bay can choose from an array of Grammy-winning artists this weekend. Gospel’s Blind Boys of Alabama play at Yoshi’s in Jack London Square on Thursday at 8 p.m., soul singer Erykah Badu and hip-hop’s Mos Def perform at the Paramount Theater on Friday at 7 p.m., and R&B’s John Legend sings at Berkeley’s Greek Theater on Sunday at 7:30 p.m.

In sports, the Cal Bears play their football home opener against Maryland at Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium on Saturday at 7 p.m.  The Oakland A’s also host the Seattle Mariners for a four-game series at the McAfee Coliseum starting Thursday night at 7:05 p.m.

For up-to-date information regarding the closure, visit www.baybridgeinfo.org or http://511.org/.

Additional reporting by John Grennan.

Photo by Basil D Soufi
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