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Bay Bridge closed indefinitely

October 29, 2009 12:04:07 AM PDT
Caltrans crews are feverishly working non-stop around the clock to repair the crossbeam that came crashing down from the Bay Bridge during Tuesday night's commute.

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Crews worked against time and high winds to make the repairs. Caltrans says vibration from traffic and wind gusts of up to 55 mph contributed to the failure. But, it could be a couple weeks before the cause is fully understood.

Metal rods were used to secure a section of eyebeams where a crack was discovered during the Labor Day weekend closure. Contractor MCM is doing this repair. MCM Executive Ed Puchi says metal-on-metal vibration caused one rod to break off, which then caused a second one and a metal plate, to come crashing down on the upper deck.

Given that vibration on a bridge is not a surprise, ABC7 asked Puchi how this could have happened. "Well, I think what was unforeseen was the metal-to-metal rubbing at that location," he said Wednesday. When asked why it was unforeseen he said only, "I couldn't tell you."

MCM says the repair design includes enhanced anchor bolts that should prevent the metal-on-metal rubbing.

ABC7 asked Puchi if he was suggesting that that part of the mechanism was mis-designed. "I don't imagine exactly their contemplation was or what they planned with the original fix," he said.

Bay Bridge spokesman Bart Ney says Caltrans engineers signed off on the first repair. This time, Caltrans has asked the Federal Highway Administration and an independent panel of seismic safety experts to take a look.

"We're not doing this alone. We have the engineering community with us, looking at what the issues are, and basically vetting what some of our design changes are going to be with the enhancements that we will add to the system," Ney said.

The repairs to the bridge are actually happening in two phases, actually applying the new fix to the eyebeam, then testing that work. MCM, the contractor making the current repairs, is not the same contractor who made the repairs over Labor Day weekend. That was contractor CC Meyers.

During a Wednesday evening press conference Ney told reporters that Caltrans did not yet have an official time when the bridge would reopen.

VIDEO:

New BART ridership record

The scramble to get around without the Bay Bridge is driving huge numbers of people to BART. BART officials said Wednesday they were on pace to meet or exceed ridership records for one day. Ridership was up 24 percent system-wide Wednesday morning. For people crossing the bay that number was much greater.

Clearly, BART was the option for tens-of-thousands of commuters looking for another way across the bay to San Francisco Wednesday morning.

"I feel bad for people. It's a lot of stress," one woman told ABC7.

It was also rather tight quarters. For some, Wednesday morning's commute brought new meaning to the word "crowded."

"BART ridership was up nearly 50 percent transbay," said BART Chief Spokesman Linton Johnson. "That's a total of 83,000 Transbay riders, an increase of about 27,200 riders."

To meet the dramatic increase in demand, BART brought in extra operators and put longer trains on all of its commute runs, up to 10 cars which can carry 150 people each. Many were not BART regulars.

"I usually carpool in Casual Carpool," Dria Fearn said. "But obviously, that's not happening today."

The extra cost of the additional service will be mostly offset by increase ticket sales, but not all of it.

"We're hoping that Caltrans can kind of help chip in. But, we don't have an agreement with that. Clearly, what we're trying to do is provide the best service we can given the circumstances that we're facing," Johnson said.

As tight as it was, many riders said the morning commute was actually better than they expected.

"There was the fire about a year ago. There was the Labor Day repairs. I think that people are quick to respond," said BART rider Bob Finley.

"We have a lot of options. We're very lucky here. I think we should focus on gratitude," another BART passenger said.

BART parking lots were extremely full Wednesday. In fact, they were full by 7:00 a.m. Riders are being strongly encouraged to walk, bike or get a ride to the BART stations. Also, unlike the Labor Day closure, BART says they will not offer overnight service. They say they need that time to do maintenance to make sure their fleet of trucks and trains is in good working order for at least one more day of expanded service.

Increase in ferry ridership

It was also a crowded commute for ferry passengers today. A supervisor at the Alameda-Oakland ferry terminal said ridership is up these days anyway.

To accommodate all the extra passengers, the Alameda-Oakland service added two additional ferries starting at 6:00 a.m. Commuters on a boat which arrived at the Ferry Building at 7:30 a.m. from Alameda said the 25-mile ride was more crowded than usual but uneventful.

Passenger Kathy Harvey told ABC7 commuters actually showed up early and were already lined up when her ferry arrived at 7:00 a.m.

Just like with BART, there were a lot of first-timers.

"They were like, 'Where am I? What am I doing?" said Maureen Blume. "And, we laughed at them, as seasoned ferry riders, and said 'Oh, it's fun. You'll be fine.'"

What was not crowded were the downtown streets of San Francisco. At 8:15 a.m., during the height of the commute, the Embarcadero looked the way it usually does on a Sunday morning.

Motorists exiting 101 on the 7th Street off-ramp were also surprised with how "normal" their commutes were.

The two additional boats running on the Alameda-Oakland ferry service will be running all day. The Golden Gate Bridge District also added an additional boat at 7:00 this morning. Afternoon ferry riders are encouraged to check to make sure those arrangements are still in effect.

San Mateo Bridge traffic jam

Traffic was jammed in many places around the Bay Area including the Golden Gate Bridge Wednesday morning. But, one of the biggest, if not the biggest commute backup, was on the San Mateo Bridge. Commuters got up before sunrise to avoid gridlock. That itself caused bumper-to-bumper traffic in both directions.

It got worse during the height of the normal commute. The normally 18-minute long trip from to San Mateo took some people a good 40 minutes.

The normally-congested downtown streets of San Francisco during the height of the commute were shockingly empty. The Embarcadero, the Financial District, 7th Street, 5th street and the downtown parking garages all looked the way they do on a Sunday afternoon. Motorists who came into San Francisco from 101 said most of that bridge traffic appeared to be going toward the South Bay.

So, that may be the reason. Or, perhaps a lot of people took the day off.

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