Closure of bridge not cause for chaosBy Erik N. Nelson
It was the disaster that wasn't: Caltrans' demolition crews had to rip up the entrance to the Bay Bridge in San Francisco, a project that by some calculations should have taken two or more weekends, creating gridlock in a city that can't live without this biggest of trans-Bay arteries.
But do without they did.
Over the Labor Day weekend, more people rode BART -- 13 percent above normal ridership -- than took advantage of free rides during this summer's anti-smog Spare the Air days. Others took ferries. Others chose to exit the city across other bridges, clogging those arteries at times but people got to their destinations nonetheless.
Perhaps the largest group that heeded Caltrans' advertising and media closure warning blitz were those who simply didn't venture across the Bay at all.
However it happened, getting past this major hurdle on the $429 million project to replace aging concrete viaducts that feed traffic on and off the bridge's western end became a cause for elation among managers at Caltrans.
"There is an incredible high, if you will, kind of like when you win the NBA championship," said Ken Terpstra, project manager for the entire Bay Bridge retrofit project.
There shouldn't be any major interruptions in Bay Bridge traffic for several years after the connections to the new eastern span begin to take shape.
It could have turned out much differently. Initial reactions to closing the lower, or eastbound, deck of the Bay Bridge throughout the three-day Labor Day weekend was, as expected, "What are they thinking?" One Caltrans manager said that even his wife asked that question.
But the answer, disseminated on the airwaves, in newspapers and on ubiquitous four-color Caltrans fliers, was that the three-day weekend was just enough time to finish the demolition of more than 1,000 feet of upper deck and supporting columns and any other weekend would have run afoul of major events.
People heard this, digested it and, apparently, understood.
On. Sept. 2, traffic in the area around the bridge made it seem more like Sacramento than San Francisco as 21 pneumatic hammers mounted on hydraulic arms knocked down 50,000 tons of concrete, chunk by chunk. By Tuesday morning, cleanup crews shoveled, scooped and swept the mess away until shortly after 4 a.m., less than an hour before the scheduled bridge reopening.
Although most of the 400 workers on the bridge and its appendages were tearing down the West Approach, others were involved with 11 other projects along five miles of the bridge, including resurfacing to installing a culvert to changing light bulbs over the middle of the lower deck.
Terpstra said the project's success was the result of a massive effort by the contractor, Tutor-Saliba; the demolition subcontractor, Cleveland Wrecking; a host of transit agencies such as BART, AC Transit and the Oakland-Alameda Ferry; and even the media for getting the word out.
Copyright ©2006 Contra Costa Times. Published 09/09/2006.