Transportation

New Bay Bridge opens, and a safer route to the East Bay

New Span Suspension
Suspension part of the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge. Photo: Pete Rosos

It’s open: after 12 years of construction, and at a cost of $6.4 billion, the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge carried its first, eager travelers safely over the water last night, at around 10:15 p.m., just under seven hours ahead of schedule.

Berkeleyside contributing photographer Pete Rosos spend a good part of this weekend learning about, and photographing, both the new span, and the now abandoned old one — built in 1933, and due to be dismantled over the next three years. Rosos writes about his experience of seeing the new span up close, and shares his thoughts on this historic moment.

I came here by over-packed car almost 13 years ago. Being a sucker for new landscapes — the monotonous effects of growing up in the plains of the mid-west will have that effect on people — my attention was immediately drawn to the bay and its bridges. The Golden Gate was stunning to see in reality for the first time. It was a beautiful bridge to behold, but the hectic, tourist-attraction atmosphere that surrounds it has since forced me to appreciate it from a distance.  (Say what you want about the Marin Headlands view, I think the Golden Gate looks best from the bay shores of Berkeley and its surroundings).

The Bay Bridge, with its two very disparate spans, always left me feeling conflicted. Why were the designs different? Who thought the pairing of these two structures made sense? Was this contrast somehow a reflection of what the Bay Area populous thought about the bridge’s respective sides?


On the old eastern span of the Bay Bridge: Seismic Retrofit Program Chief Bridge Engineer Brian Marone talks to colleagues. Photo: Pete Rosos

Traveling westbound, I couldn’t drive fast enough over the clunky, mechanical, over-exaggerated  erector-set eastern span in anticipation of the marvelous western span towers and twin sloping parabolas. I’d purposely squeeze myself into the middle lane of the upper deck to catch the framed view of the perfect symmetry of the huge latticed towers as I emerged from the Yerba Buena tunnel.

Driving on the lower deck was never as awe-inspiring as it was on the upper deck, but the curmudgeon in me always seemed to amplify when I’d hit the eastern span. “Damn, this thing is ugly, and unsafe too. What would happen if a quake hit right here, right now? What would/could/should I do?” Those were the first snippets of internal dialogue that would eventually grow over time into heinous ignorant know-it-all avuncular rants. “What’s wrong with you people that it takes you more than 20 years to build a bridge?! They said it’d cost hundreds of millions, now it’s gonna cost billions and take that much longer! Deceit! Corruption! The tolls are going up by how much? Something is rotten in the State of California!”

New Span Eastbound Lanes Wideangle
Eastbound lanes of the new span of the Bay Bridge.

As the years rolled on, and more bits and pieces of the new bridge sprouted higher out of the water, I’d find myself trying to balance keeping an eye on the road and peeking over the edge of the bridge to see how things were progressing. With the announcement that the new span opening might be pushed back even further, I gave up any lingering hope and gave in to a state of silent indifference.

The taut rope of disillusionment snapped recently with the sudden realization that, yes, finally, they are actually going to open the new span. Then the historical significance became real. How many times do you get the chance to bear witness to an event like this? This should be captured. This should be remembered. They did it back then. We should do it now. I asked Berkeleyside if they would be interested in me shooting the opening of the bridge and they applied for a press pass on my behalf.

Middle of the Skyway
In the middle of the Skywalk. Photo: Pete Rosos

Last Wednesday I took one last drive over the beast of the eastern span to Treasure Island and back, not out of some sappy sense of nostalgia, but more to satiate the “once more unto the breach” feeling of having conquered the slogging wait of the new span’s completion. Later that night, word had come through that press access had been granted.


I went Thursday morning to the CalTrans Public Information Office (PIO) to pick up the press pass and got there just in time for a presentation by CalTrans’ Seismic Retrofit Program Chief Bridge Engineer, Brian Maroney. My attention was torn between trying to listen to Maroney and getting myself organized for what turned out to be a ride over the old eastern span.

CalTrans spokespeople then packed us in vans and made sure we all had the required neon dayglo construction safety vests, hardhats, and goggles. We were shuttled up and over the new span and then boomeranged around onto the upper deck of the old, driving one hundred feet or so eastbound in the westbound lanes.

New Span Suspension Tower
The suspension tower of the new span. Pete Rosos

We spent about a half an hour up there with Maroney pointing out and describing in intricate detail the various aspects of the cantilever design.  Maroney went out of his way to explain what might seem dizzyingly confusing to most. I got the feeling that were he paid in pennies, Maroney would still do his job with pride.

When it was time to pack the tour up, I was left with two thoughts. One, a newfound appreciation for the design of the old eastern span and the work it took to build it, and two, a sense of embarrassment at having spent the better part of 13 years badmouthing what I see now as a beautiful thing (better to have loved and lost …).

Later that afternoon we were escorted out to the toll both parking lot for for a tour of the new span. We saw the finishing touches being made to the stripping and repaving of the toll booth lanes, and heard about the installation of the temporary bike/pedestrian path, and the polyester concrete overlay of the tunnel entrance.


Screen Shot 2013-09-02 at 3.51.41 PM
The new span’s skywalk, suspension and a view of fog over the Golden Gate Bridge. Photo: Pete Rosos

Then it was into the vans and up to the bridge, except this time there were three stops instead of one. The first was at the joint between the Oakland touchdown section and the skyway to have a look at the demolition of the front section of the old span. In the space of just under 24 hours, the construction crew had chewed up and spit out a thousand feet of the old span incline. On the way to the second stop there were various sections of what will be the bike/pedestrian path lined up along the eastbound side of the span. We stopped again at the joint between the skyway and the suspension sections just shy of the tower. Getting a chance to see the view of San Francisco from the new span, one member of the press joked about the CHP’s probable new job of chasing off tourists intent on pulling over to take Instagram snapshots.

The last and final stop on the tour was in front of the exit of the eastbound lanes from the tunnel. Besides getting to see workers applying the concrete polyester overlay to the pavement joining the tunnel and the new span, we also got a glimpse of the temporary eastbound onramp from Treasure Island. More impressive still was the portrait-like view of the old span cantilever peak, shoulder to shoulder with the new span tower. Old and new standing together for now, but not for long — just a couple years more until Cal Trans finishes taking the old section down.

After the opening, the roles will be reversed. If you were like me, and you couldn’t help but try to peek over the guardrails of the old span to see the new bridge as it was being built, you’ll now get the chance to see the slow breakdown of the old span from the new — albeit with a much better view.

Seven things to know about the new span of the Bay Bridge:

  • It will take approximately three years to completely dismantle the old span.
  • A temporary and limited bike/pedestrian path will be open to the public at 12:00pm, September 3.  Removal of large portions of the old span is necessary before the path can be completed.
  • Access routes will take cyclists/pedestrians from Shellmound Street in Emeryville along a location that parallels Burma Road onto the new span, and from West Oakland along Grand Avenue.
  • There is a plan to extend the path as far as the new span tower by the end of this year.
  • The completion of the permanent bike/pedestrian path leading to Treasure Island is set for early 2015.
  • Cycling all the way to downtown San Francisco would require a new path clipped to the side of the western span, for which there are currently designs but no funds.
  • For more information go to baybridgeinfo.org

Related:
New Bay Bridge span: 2 minutes, 3 years of building [01.08.13]
Lightning strikes Bay Bridge in midst of dramatic storm [04.13.12]
View from the water: New span of Bay Bridge takes shape [10.05.11]
Sneak peek: Up close on the new Bay Bridge span [02.14.11]

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