Bay Bridge workday closure goes smoothly
on September 4, 2009
Updated at 6:20 p.m.
For the first time in 73 years, the boss let the Bay Bridge take a day off during the workweek. Even without the bridge, Friday’s morning commute went relatively smoothly, and no major messes were apparent by early evening.
Caltrans closed the bridge at 8 p.m. last night and initiated a five-night, four-day special construction project to replace a 300-foot section of the span near Yerba Buena Island. Despite the loss of a bridge that carries up to 280,000 passengers a day, most workers were able to get to and from their offices without serious delays.
“The traffic is going to be heavy all around the region, but people around the Bay Area have proven time and again that they are a savvy bunch and are resourceful,” said Metropolitan Transportation Commission spokesman John Goodwin.
No Caltrans spokesman was on duty during this morning’s events. Even with the bridge closure, the agency’s Oakland offices were closed as part of Friday furloughs mandated by state budget cuts.
Many commuters today relied on BART after the last few days’ constant messages about the Bay Bridge’s closure. Some turned to boats, other bridges, and the ever-popular telecommute.
Even though BART picked up extra passengers, the system’s decision to run extra cars on all its trains was helping alleviate the commute burden.
“There were slightly more riders than usual for a Friday, but it wasn’t that bad,” said Jay Patton, who had returned early this evening to Oakland’s MacArthur BART station from his work near San Francisco’s Montgomery station.
Alisha Aspatore, who was traveling this morning from the North Berkeley station to her job at San Francisco’s Mission High School, was among the extra BART commuters for the AM rush.
“I take BART every so often, but I often do the casual carpool,” Aspatore said. “It’s cheaper than BART, even with the toll.”
Except for unscheduled disruptions after the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, the Bay Bridge has punched the clock every weekday as the region’s workers travel to and from the office. Previous bridge seismic retrofit projects took place when offices were closed during Labor Day weekends in 2006 and 2007, but Caltrans made the call to close the bridge today in order to complete the project before the commute starts up again on Tuesday morning.
A 9:30 a.m. accident on I-880 South near the 66th Avenue/McAfee Coliseum exit didn’t help matters on an already tight freeway system, but traffic generally moved well throughout the region. 511.org showed occasional slowdowns at the MacArthur Maze and on the San Mateo and Golden Gate bridges, but otherwise traffic moved at regular speeds.
BART will continue to run full trains on a 24-hour schedule through the weekend.
“Our goal is to get as many cars out and make the trains as long as possible for peak periods on Friday,” BART spokesman Jim Allison said. “We are planning to put every car that is available out so that passengers have more room and we can increase carrying capacity.”
During the Friday 7 a.m. commute rush hour at Oakland’s MacArthur station, BART’s surge capacity more than accommodated extra passengers. All trains heading into San Francisco were carrying the full ten cars. Trains filled up earlier in the morning than usual, but no one was left waiting on the platform.
“It seems like the normal level of passengers this morning,” said Will Hinckley, who was traveling early today from Berkeley’s Ashby Station to the San Francisco International Airport.
One bottleneck in the Bay Area commuter system occurred in BART’s parking lots. With more passengers than usual driving to BART stations instead of over the Bay Bridge, parking around stations throughout the East Bay filled up early in the morning.
“The parking lot here was already as crowded at 7 as it usually is by 8,” said Veronica Reilly, a middle-school teacher who lives near Lake Merritt and takes the BART from MacArthur station to San Francisco’s Civic Center most mornings.
BART spokeswoman Luna Salaver advised passengers to bear these parking limitations in mind. “Folks may want to take a bus, walk, bike or get dropped off when taking BART at peak commute hours,” Salaver said.
Even without the Bay Bridge, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s John Goodwin said Oakland residents shouldn’t have too many problems traveling around the region this weekend. “North Oakland is enormously well-suited to take advantage of the additional BART service,” Goodwin said. “My advice to neighbors in North Oakland is to use BART or use the ferry from Jack London Square.”
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. 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.
Additional reporting by Lauren Callahan and Shannon Service.
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