Bridge repairs should be done Friday

SAN FRANCISCO

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/*Caltrans*/ is hoping to get the bridge open to traffic sometime in the next 24 hours. It's been shut down since Tuesday night after repairs to earlier repairs on Labor Day fell apart and damaged several vehicles.

Caltrans indicated in a Thursday morning news conference that the span will not be ready for the evening's commute.

Construction crews are continuing their non-stop work to repair, once and for all, this troublesome part of the /*Bay Bridge*/. The winds that delayed the project Wednesday are gone. The welding is complete and now it's time to lift two new 80 foot long rods into place to replace the ones that along with a crossbeam came crashing down on Tuesday evening. But there's still more to be done.

"We do not have a definitive time at this point whether it will be available for the evening commute because there are still too many unknowns. The testing has to go well, the final construction has to go well, there are still a few things out in front of us," said Caltrans spokesperson Bart Ney.

To improve on the failed repairs made over Labor Day weekend, crews are working to cut down on vibration and thereby reduce metal fatigue.

They're strapping the connecting rods to the eyebar, doing additional welding and installing a new fastening system on the very items that failed.

"It's unique in the fact that we have never had a cracked eyebar in this way, but the design is about as straight forward as you can possibly get. We are literally just having rods that take the weight away from the eyebar," said Ney.

Caltrans is now saying that inspections detected movement in this area of the bridge before Tuesday's disaster and engineers were already well along in planning this repair. But repairing a bridge may be easier than repairing Caltrans' credibility with the quarter-million people who drive across the structure every day.

"Caltrans is doing everything that it can to return the bridge back to a safe state. If that is not good enough for them, then the other thing that we are doing is we are bringing in third party groups to look at these things that we are doing -- to ensure that the industry believes that what we are doing is right," said Ney.

RAW VIDEO: Bridge update from construction crew

San Mateo Bridge traffic jam

Traffic on the San Mateo Bridge was Thursday and the commute started early. By 5:00 a.m., 2,000 vehicles were already on the bridge, three times the usual number at that hour during a regular commute day. By 6:00 a.m., bridge traffic swelled to more than 5,000 cars.

The backup started on Highway 880 southbound, as cars inched slowly toward 92 and the bridge.

The CHP told ABC7 that traffic on the Dumbarton Bridge was much heavier Thursday than Wednesday morning.

Commuters who experienced big delays on the San Mateo Bridge were obviously looking for an alternate route, but CHP officer Mary Ziegenbein says the San Mateo Bridge was still hit hardest today.

"It was very heavy. Not a lot of crashes, but again a lot of motorists. We are just getting the safety message out about - just take your time and we know that tempers can run a little thin during this time, so we just want people to be patient," said Ziegenbein.

Bridge authorities helped accommodate the overload by opening all eight lanes at the toll plaza for this morning's commute. On a normal day, four of those lanes would be closed.

Traffic heavy again on the Golden Gate Bridge

Traffic was heavy on the Golden Gate Bridge Thursday morning as well, but bridge officials say it was moving. Their big worry is the evening commute.

"Last night was a mess and we expect the same thing again today. It's a challenge when you only have six lanes to deal with and you have a demand in both directions," said Golden Gate Transit spokesperson Mary Currie.

Officials urge commuters to use the Golden Gate Bridge either before 2 p.m. or after 7 p.m. in order to avoid back-ups. They say traffic on the bridge has been two to three times the normal amount.

New BART ridership record

The scramble to get around without the Bay Bridge is driving record numbers of people to BART.

"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.

BART parking lots are again extremely full on Thursday. 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.

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