Bay Area Traffic

A look back at the history of the Bay Bridge

Friday, August 23, 2013
Old and new eastern spans of the Bay Bridge The Bay Bridge closure is just days away and BART is gearing up to run trains round the clock, until the new Bay Bridge is opened right after Labor Day. Bay Bridge toll plaza backup

When the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge opens September 3, it will have been nearly 24 years since the Loma Prieta earthquake set in motion plans for a replacement span, and 11 years since construction began.

The bridge shutdown for the final phase of construction starts August 28 and should reopen in time for the morning commute September 3.

As we're about to enter a new era in bridge history it's a good time to look back and remember just how it is how we got here. After all, there was a time when there was no bridge across this stretch of bay.

It's incredible to think that in just three years -- from 1933 to 1936 -- the Bay Bridge was built, opening nine months ahead of schedule.

For decades, cars shared the upper deck while trucks and what was called the key train crossed below. That would end in 1958, with an eastbound lower deck and the upper westbound.

Dustin Hoffman evidently didn't get the message as he made his way to Berkeley on the upper deck in the 1967 movie "The Graduate."

The bridge stood unscathed until October 17 1989; a great day for a baseball game, as the San Francisco Giants played the Oakland A's in the World Series.

Then the Loma Prieta earthquake collapsed Oakland's Cypress Freeway, set San Francisco's marina ablaze, and the Bay Bridge had taken a hit. An entire section of the bay bridge had been lost.

The bridge was closed for a month. Commuters crushed onto BART and were left steaming in backups. It reopened, but was declared unsafe just months later.

Then Governor Arnold Schwarzeneggar wanted to go cheap and build a bridge similar to the San Mateo -- basically a long ramp. The proposal brought storm of protest.

Finally a deal for a more expensive design, paid for by tolls, state and federal funds.

With its cost projected at $2.6 billion, in the end the new span would cost over $3.5 billion more than that. It would be the biggest public works project in the state's history.

Construction began in 2002.

"This will be the strongest bridge in America bar none, and arguably the strongest bridge in the world," said then Governor Gray Davis on January 29, 2002.

Over the years, as with any project of this size, there would be problems.

In 2005 bad welds made headlines and prompted investigations.

More recently, galvanized seismic safety bolts cracked when tightened. Their failure threatened the bridge's opening as critics asked why they were installed in the first place.

A saddle retrofit was chosen and temporary shims are in place to make the bridge safer while the saddles go in.

Now the Bay Area's newest landmark, the new eastern span and its iconic white tower with a 6.2 billion dollar price tag, is opening.

It's impossible to say when tolls will pay off the bonds that funded it, as the Bay Area Toll Authority frequently refinances to take advantage of changing market conditions.

(Copyright ©2014 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.)

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bay bridge, earthquake, oakland, traffic, construction, caltrans, metropolitan transportation commission, labor day, transportation, bikes, fastrak, bay area traffic, heather ishimaru
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