Bay Bridge open to traffic in both directions

September 3, 2013 12:28:05 AM PDT
The new Bay Bridge is open in both directions. It opened around 10 p.m. Monday night, well ahead of the Tuesday, 5 a.m. deadline. Earlier on Monday afternoon Bay Area lawmakers and transit officials gathered to celebrate the new eastern span and hold a chain cutting ceremony.

The ceremonies included several hundred guests, but was a downsized verion of the opening celebration that was called off after concerns about bolts on the bridge left the opening date in question.

Following a ceremony featuring speeched from various bridge officials, Lt. Gov. Gavin News performed the ceremonial chain cutting at the newly refurbished toll plaza with help from San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Oakland Mayor Jean Quan. Gov. Jerry Brown is at a family function in Michigan and could not attend Monday's events. Several speakers at today's ceremony remarked upon the lengthy process of getting the new span designed and built after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake collapsed part of the upper deck of the old cantilever bridge, which opened in 1936.

Metropolitan Transportation Commission executive director Steve Heminger cited the many challenges faced during the project, some with technical issues like the broken bolts and others involving political battles over the span's design that led to escalating costs.

The bridge is opening "at long last," Heminger said. "This truly is a landmark event."

State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, said legislators "will review and learn from our mistakes" to ensure that similar delays and cost overruns do not happen on other large infrastructure projects in the state.

Other speakers chose to highlight the beauty of the bridge, including San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, who said the new span "serves as a monument to creativity and ingenuity," while state Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Oakland, said it will serve as "a gorgeous piece of public art" in the Bay Area.

There is still plenty of work to be done after today's ceremony before the bridge opens to the public. The toll takers have to arrive for work at the toll plaza. CHP officers have to get in place to handle the first crowds and the entire bridge has to be swept clean.

The California Highway Patrol will deploy officers on the bridge once it opens to make sure motorists are following the 50 mph speed limit and are not pulling over to look at the bridge, Officer Daniel Hill said.

After the bridge does open, CHP officers in patrol cars will be blocking lanes in front of traffic to keep auto speed "nice and low," Hill said.

CHP officers want to make sure that drivers do not succumb to the temptation of stopping to view the new bridge while driving on it and anyone who blocks traffic will be cited, Hill said.

At a Sunday evening news conference, Caltrans said demolition on an old section of the bridge has been completed. On the western lanes of the toll plaza they have some striping to do. On the eastern side they have some paving and striping to do.

Some of this weekend's work includes changes for FasTrak users and how they get on the bridge. The new view as you approach the Bay Bridge toll plaza shows the need for Fastrak drivers and those paying cash to get into separate lanes earlier than before. The idea is to ease congestion. And there's an extra Fastrak lane if you get on the bridge from I-880 or West Grand Avenue.

"We've removed the toll booth that was previously here so you get a little bit of open road tolling," said Goodwin. "No more need to slow down to 25 mph as you pass through the toll plaza, you can continue at highway speed."

Workers continued chipping away at the old span in order to make room for the bike and pedestrian path on the new bridge. They'll install a temporary path that heads into Oakland until the permanent fixture is completed within a year.

The tunnel on Yerba Buena Island got a good scrubbing inside and out. You'll notice the lack of grime immediately.

The CHP is out in force at every entrance ramp to the bridge making sure no one gets past the barricades. Caltrans has guides stationed nearby to help drivers figure out how to get across the bay. Many were lured there by their GPS.

"With any roadway closure, we do see people coming to the closures unexpectedly," CHP Officer Daniel Hill said. "Sometimes they don't know what to do and they come into the cone areas."

On Saturday workers also finished hacking apart a section of the old span so they could install the new bike and pedestrian path that goes along the road deck. It'll run into Oakland and Emeryville and should be open to cyclists Tuesday at noon.

Ann Weber of Emeryville discovered the path by accident Saturday and quickly left because she didn't want to get in trouble. But she'll be back.

"Oh, I'll be happy to go on the Bay Bridge just to see how spectacular the new bridge is and to see the view," she said. "It's really gonna be exciting. I can't wait to go."

Bay City News contributed to this story.


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