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New Bay Bridge span a big hit with commuters

September 3, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Commuters crossing the Bay Bridge now have two reasons to celebrate -- no more long detours to get across the Bay and getting to soak in the new scenery of the new span.

Commuters are raving about the wide-open feel and beauty of the span. Many said the span feels easier to navigate with access to shoulder lanes and without the dreaded S-curve. The CHP has had a strong enforcement along the bridge and is encouraging drivers to obey the speed limit and pay attention to the road, not the new tower.

While it was still dark out, some drivers took advantage of the light traffic.

"It was really beautiful and I drove slower, I think everyone was driving a little slower just to admire the bridge," said San Francisco resident Hector Huang.

Commuters who arrived a little later, by bus, found themselves caught up in traffic, but, all the better to see the new sights.

"I actually stayed awake coming across the bridge just because I wanted to see it and there was definitely excitement," said Oakland resident Diony Gamoso.

The delicate, white tower certainly draws the eye. But drivers, and riders, are also impressed with the wide lanes and new lighting.

"It's kind of fast -- faster than the other one actually," said commuter Aldo Martinez.

Monday ceremony reopens the bridge

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 version of the opening celebration that was called off after concerns about bolts on the bridge left the opening date in question.

Following the ceremony featuring speeches 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 was at a family function in Michigan and could not attend Monday's events. Several speakers at the 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.

Changes for drivers and bicyclists

There are some 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.

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

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 today at noon.

Beauty comes at a price

On the first full day of service for the new Bay Bridge, drivers are marveling at the beauty and the price tag which is expected to be even more than previously thought. Commuters at the toll plaza are already paying the bulk of the project.

The price tag being heard bandied about is $6.4 billion, but wait, there's more -- much more, when you add in the finance charges.

Drivers say the new bridge is spectacular, but that beauty comes with a price. "Ouch. Well, I think that's the way our government is. We've got to watch that," motorist Paul Cutteridge told ABC7 News said in reaction to the $6.4 billion cost.

The price tag is nearly three times what they thought it would cost when construction began on a bridge originally scheduled to be completed in 2007. But political bickering over design and placement dragged the process along.

UC Berkeley professor Karen Trapenberg Frick has made a career out of researching the Bay Bridge, which she calls a mega project -- captivating, complex, and costly.

"Time is money, clearly, and over that time, steel prices have increased, construction costs just in general, across the industry, have increased, with September 11th, suddenly insurance and bonding costs went up, which nobody could have predicted at the time," Trapenberg Frick told ABC7 News

"I think it's worth the money, but not that much money," one man told ABC7 News. Commuters are paying the lion's share of the project. According to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, about 69 percent will come from tolls. And while $6.4 billion is already staggering, the final final is likely to be nearly twice as high -- $12 billion by the time the bonds are paid off in 2054.

"Just as when you buy a home, for instance, you end up paying an awful lot of interest on top of that," said John Goodwin with the MTC. But the spokesman for the MTC says toll increases are not forecast for this project.


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