BREAKING: Caltrans says Bay Bridge will open tonight. No specific time given

September 2, 2013 4:50:56 PM PDT
Bay Area lawmakers and transit officials have gathered for opening ceremonies for the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge. The bridge was scheduled to open at 5 a.m. Tuesday but Caltrans announced during the ceremony that the bridge will open Monday night.

Today's ceremonies are planned to include several hundred dignitaries, including a few people who were around for the original Bay Bridge dedication 75 years ago, as well as those who came to the rescue when part of the span collapsed during the Loma Prieta quake. The ceremony will be followed by a ceremonial chain cutting and procession across the new span.

"Dignitaries and people of note are being added almost as we speak and there will be a special guest," John Goodwin with the Bay Area Toll Authority.

That's being kept a secret. The event will not be open to the public. Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom is set to do the honors because Gov. Jerry Brown is at a family function in Michigan, although transportation officials say there is a chance the governor could return.

Caltrans is still aiming to open the bridge Tuesday at 5 a.m.

"We are as hopeful as anyone else that we can get this bridge open before 5 a.m., but we don't want the public planning their commute or drive based on what we hope," said Bay Bridge spokesperson Andrew Gordon. "If there is the opportunity to open the bridge early we will certainly take advantage of that, but again we are not at the point to make that call yet."

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."

Commuters feel impact of Bay Bridge closure

For people driving on this holiday, it's the last day they'll have to endure heavy traffic without the Bay Bridge. The closure can be felt on roads and streets leading to and from the bridge's alternate routes. Doyle Drive in San Francisco was bumper-to-bumper yesterday with Golden Gate Bridge traffic. So was the approach from Marin, with traffic backed up all the way to Marin City. And changing the north-south lane configurations didn't make much difference -- traffic was heavy all day long and into the evening.

People are relying heavily on public transit to help them get around the Bay Bridge closure. BART says Saturday was the second busiest Saturday in the system's history -- with more than 278,000 riders. Trains are running 24-hours a day through tonight during the shutdown.

Ferries are also running at capacity. Golden Gate Ferry reports more than 3,000 more riders turned to their boats compared last weekend. Ferries to and from the East Bay have also been considerably busier.

(Bay City News contributed to this story.)

If you have to drive during the shutdown, download ABC7's exclusive Waze traffic app to get around the gridlock.

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