FHA letter gives hope Bay Bridge could open by Labor Day


After 11 years of construction, the new eastern span could soon be ready for traffic as soon as next month.

The new eastern span of the Bay Bridge is pretty much finished. Previously, we were told it could be December or even later before it opened. However, on Monday night, a letter was released from the Federal Highway Administration that gives a glimmer of hope that cars could be driving on the new bridge by Labor Day -- just a few weeks away.

The process of grinding away at the massive saddles that'll take the weight off cracked bolts on the new Bay Bridge will undoubtedly take months. The bolts are part of what are called "shear keys" -- devices that stabilize the bridge when there's an earthquake. Now, there's word the bridge could still open on time, even while this work is still going on.

In a letter to Caltrans, the federal highway administration gave its approval to a temporary fix. Steel shims that will reinforce the cracked bolts could be installed in just weeks and stay in place until the permanent fix is done. The letter reads, "As such, we see no reason to delay opening the bridge to traffic prior to the shear key retrofit being completed."

"It's reassuring that they believe the new bridge can be opened quickly," said St. Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, who chairs the Transportation Committee.

He says they'll review the federal government's findings, but on first reading, he'd favor opening the bridge as soon as possible.

DeSaulnier: "You want to get people off that old bridge because, although it's been there since 1989, we're told very explicitly by the experts, if there's another Loma Prieta [earthquake], that bridge will fail, and it'll fail dramatically."
Bloom: "So the goal is to get people on that new bridge even if it has some repairs left to be done?"
DeSaulnier: "That's right."

The state has filed claims against the contractor who installed the bad bolts to pay for the temporary fix and the permanent one.

Just in case the bridge does open on Labor Day, the California Highway Patrol says they'll be ready for it. The agency began signing up extra officers for around-the-clock overtime shifts to manage security and traffic control associated with the opening. They have until two days before the scheduled shifts to cancel them without incurring any labor costs.

By the way, on Tuesday night, all of the roadway lights on the new eastern span of the bridge will be switched on. That includes the lights in the self-anchored suspension span's main cable. On Monday night crews were testing the lights in preparation for Tuesday's official event.

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