09.04.07, 01:00 AM #1
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As Promised, The Bay Bridge Opens Sooner Than Expected
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After taking most of Labor Day weekend off, the Bay Bridge returned to work Monday - 11 hours earlier than scheduled and just in time to help with traffic at the end of the holiday.
At 5:49 p.m., California Highway Patrol officers abandoned roadblocks erected so workers could replace part of the upper deck and reopened the nation's busiest toll bridge to traffic. "Cars coming," came the announcement over the toll plaza loudspeaker. And at 5:52 p.m. the first cluster of westbound cars hesitantly approached the toll booths.
The first through, a blue Toyota FJ Cruiser with two bikes on the back, used the mini-plaza on the far right, paying the $4 toll with a FasTrak transponder. Traffic was light for at least an hour after the reopening, and cars driving toward the toll plaza kicked up clouds of dust as they rolled over lanes that have been freshly restriped as part of yet another change at the bridge - a new configuration for FasTrak users.
FasTrak-only lanes, formerly scattered across the plaza, have now been clustered in the center and at the mini-plaza on the right. New signs designating which lanes are for FasTrak users only, drivers paying with cash or carpools have been installed at the toll booths and at two points as drivers approach.
One new FasTrak lane has been added, and two FasTrak-only approaches now stretch 2,600 feet from the toll booths, more than four times farther than the old 600 feet.
Any change at the busy Bay Bridge toll plaza typically causes confusion and backups for about a week, but bridge officials are counting on the new signs to help speed the adjustment.
"We hope people see 'FasTrak' or 'cash' and line up ahead of time," said Rod McMillan, director of bridge oversight and operations for the Bay Area Toll Authority.
Transportation officials can only hope the FasTrak changes go as smoothly as the three-day project to demolish a 350-foot section of the upper deck of the bridge just east of Yerba Buena Island and roll a new, 6,700-ton section into place.
Caltrans closed the bridge at 8 p.m. Friday and set aside 81 hours for contractor C.C. Myers Inc. to finish the job in time for this morning's commute. From early on, however, it was clear that crews were never in danger of pushing today's 5 a.m. deadline.
"It was an amazing accomplishment," said Caltrans Director Will Kempton, who watched workers inch the new Yerba Buena viaduct into place late Sunday and early Monday. "It was just amazing how smoothly it went."
Myers has developed a reputation for getting big highway construction jobs done quickly. In May, his firm completed the repair of the collapsed MacArthur Maze a month ahead of schedule, and in 1994, rebuilt the battered Santa Monica Freeway after the Northridge earthquake.
Both times, Myers earned large bonuses for the early finishes. Wrapping up the bridge project early, however, made no difference to the bottom line - his payout from the state was a firm $40 million.
The 69-year-old Myers was clearly proud of his company's weekend work, though he thought it could have been done even more quickly.
"All these years they've been working on the Bay Bridge, and we come in and do this overnight," he said. "The public is going to be able to start using this first piece of the new Bay Bridge."
The new viaduct was lifted and slid 100 feet into place at 2:46 a.m. Monday using a computer-controlled hydraulic system. It fit perfectly, said Myers.
"We knew we could do it," he said. "The people in our organization have that can-do attitude. We'll get the job done, and we'll get it done early."
The new viaduct will be part of the new eastern span that is scheduled to open in 2013. The football-field-size structure will be barely noticeable to those driving over it, but those on the lower deck will probably notice the new concrete and brighter lighting.
Caltrans engineers decided to replace the old viaduct because it was susceptible to damage in a major earthquake, and because a new structure will work better with a temporary detour that will be built on the south side of the bridge as part of the eastern span replacement project.
That temporary structure, also being built by C.C. Myers, is expected to open in about year and a half, and will carry traffic for about four years. Hooking it up to the existing bridge will require another weekend-long closure; Caltrans has not picked a date.
This weekend's closure tested people's ability to get around without the major connection between San Francisco and the East Bay. Although there were scattered traffic backups, people appeared to heed the call to stay off the roads and take public transit.
Caltrans officials mounted a nearly $1 million publicity campaign warning motorists as far away as Southern California of the closure and urging Bay Area drivers to take public transit or expect delays along alternate routes. The agency also subsidized overnight BART service and extra ferry runs.
While official ridership figures are not yet available, it's clear that transit was popular. BART carried huge loads all weekend, and large crowds were reported on ferry systems as well.
"We've pretty much shattered every ridership record we have," said BART spokesman Linton Johnson. "Weekday, weekend, all ridership records we have look like they've been broken."
The past record for daily ridership is 381,200, which was set June 13 when there was a Police concert at the Coliseum in Oakland. The previous Saturday mark was March 3, when 229,583 people rode. The Sunday record was June 24, when 196,000 showed up, many drawn by the gay pride parade in San Francisco.
On the highways, traffic slowed at times in the expected locations, especially nearing the Golden Gate, Richmond-San Rafael and San Mateo bridges, but fears of gridlock never became reality. Even on the Golden Gate Bridge and along Highway 101 in Marin County, where officials expected trouble, traffic flowed relatively smoothly.
Mary Currie, spokeswoman for the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District, said Monday that 63,255 vehicles crossed the bridge southbound on Sunday, compared with 47,130 on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend a year ago. That weekend, the Bay Bridge's lower deck was closed.
"It was much more balanced traffic pattern this year," Currie said, "and there were very few incidents."
E-mail Michael Cabanatuan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last edited by onefootoutthedoor; 09.04.07 at 01:04 AM.[SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]
09.04.07, 07:19 AM #2
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I was in the area last week and was surprised to see the signs of the closure. I flew out of Oakland Saturday morning and left several hours early, assuming that traffic would be buggered up but found smooth sailing all the way.
In all my years in the Bay Area, I was as critical of Caltrans as anyone but this and the recent repair to the interchange damaged in that truck fire a few months ago are two big "thumbs up" moments.
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