Update: Crack in the Bay Bridge may delay reopening
on September 7, 2009
Updated Sept. 7, 9 a.m.
At an 8 a.m. press conference on Monday, Caltrans spokesman Bart Ney announced that the Bay Bridge may not reopen tomorrow at 5 a.m. as scheduled. Ney cited unanticipated repair work on a cracked eyebar as the main source of uncertainty.
“It will be a monumental challenge to have it finished by 5 a.m.,” Ney said. “This is going to take what it takes. As soon as it’s done, we’ll open the bridge.”
Ney will provide more information about the bridge’s status at a 5 p.m. press conference.
If the bridge does not open by Tuesday morning, Metropolitan Transit Commission spokesman John Goodwin said transit contingency plans are in place.
“We just need to activate the switch,” Goodwin said, adding that transit contingency plans include “longer trains on BART, additional ferry service, and extra highway patrol.”
Caltrans construction manager Mike Forner said the crack was discovered in one of the eastern span’s eight eyebars that together form a critical support structure. The fissure is significant enough to demand immediate repair, but is unrelated to the seismic retrofit project currently underway.
“There was rust in the crack, so it’s been there a while,” Forner said at an on-site press conference. “It’s visible from the ground and it’s 120 feet in the air.”
Although the seven other eyebars successfully compensated for the weakened piece, Ney pointed out that safety relies on redundancy. The span does not achieve the proper safety rating when one piece is diminished.
“It’s still an important thing that needs to be corrected before we open up the Bay Bridge,” Ney said. Even if it were currently open to traffic, he said, “the crack is significant enough to have had us close the bridge so we could replace or repair the section.”
Caltrans contractors have scheduled periodic bridge closures during the seismic retrofit of the 73-year-old structure. Officials take advantage of these closures to inspect the bridge without having to work around the approximately 260,000 vehicles that cross it each day.
The fissure was spotted during one of these routine inspections at the end of an exacting day on the site. The climax came Sunday when workers positioned a 300-foot-long detour section into the ready position and then used hydraulic jacks and dish soap to slide the 3,600-ton section into place. The aerial ballet performed by cranes and mega-tons of concrete has captured the attention of Bay Area residents who monitor progress via twitter, live construction cams and even chartered boats on the bay.
Bay Bridge Info’s Twitter feed amassed nearly 800 followers by Friday evening and the count jumped to over a thousand by midday today. Tweets vary from the mundane — “We’re on the move again, more updates later” — to live breaking updates from the job site, including links to pictures of the new section being rolled in.
The construction project is also featured on Google Earth. Zooming towards an image of the Bay Bridge from overhead, users find a transparent projection of the future Bay Bridge side-by-side with the current construction. The new bridge is scheduled to open in 2013.
For the truly fascinated, Celebrations on the Bay offered construction cruises on Saturday and Sunday. The ship holds ninety-five passengers and both cruises sold out. “We had to take the phone off the hook,” said Sharon Schuyler, who owns the company’s 65-foot boat with her husband Greg.
Approximately thirty of Saturday’s passengers were residents and guests of Cardinal Point, an independent and assisted living center located at Mariner Square in Alameda. Bettie Grandison, 76, was born around the time the original bridge was built. “I remember coming by ferry when there was no bridge,” she said. “And I remember when trains traveled over the lower deck.”
Eva Joy, 79, remembers seeing a sketch of the proposed bridge in the newspaper when she was a young girl. She thought at the time that cars would travel over the curved suspension cables. “I remember seeing it and thinking that my dad’s car was not going to make it over that bridge,” she said.
Joy and Grandison joined the other passengers on deck to point at the construction and speculate about the role each piece plays in the transformation of this Bay Area stalwart.
This morning’s announcement of the crack might just steal the show, however, as commuters monitor construction carefully over the remaining portion of the Labor Day Weekend.
Standing on the bridge construction site this morning, Ney said teams will work to make the original 5am Tuesday deadline for reopening the bridge. But he declined to make any promises. “We are not going to open the bridge until the repairs are made,” he said. “We will open the bridge when it is ready.”
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