New Bay Bridge span set to open on September 3


Long journeys both begin and end with single steps. In the case of the Bay Bridge, it's been 24 years. And now we have that date -- Labor Day weekend.

In a boardroom, miles from construction work on the eastern span of the Bay Bridge, the last hour of debate passed with experts, graphs, and recommendations.

"There is risk to the public, there's risk to all of us keeping people on the old bridge," said Brian Maroney with Caltrans.

So now, it's official. Between August 28 and September 3, the Bay Bridge will close as the switchover begins.

It will involve connecting work at both ends mostly, paving, striping lanes, installing barriers.

"The bridge is pretty much done," said Steve Heminger with the Toll Bridge Oversight Committee. "The work that needs to be done over Labor Day is the cut-in work at either end. Everything in the middle is pretty much ready for traffic, and will be."

This return to the original opening precedes a scheduled permanent fix of those faulty bolts. It came on fast after the federal government and independent engineers agreed that a series of temporary shims will render the bridge stable in an earthquake and certainly much safer than the old span, which collapsed during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

"The existing bridge is the one folks should be worried about," Heminger said. "And that's the one they shouldn't be trusting. We've got two structures out there, side-by-side, and there is no contest about which one is safer."

We should note that while the bridge will open to traffic, it won't be completely finished. For instance, the bike path is still only going to be temporary.

And if you expect a big opening ceremony, it's not any time soon. Officials say they're going to cut a ribbon, get it open, and get on with it.

Bay Bridge shutdown to impact local businesses

To get the new eastern span open, the Bay Bridge will be shut down a long five days. And the impact on businesses in many part of the Bay Area will be significant.

We're talking about five days, not just the weekend. A lot of the people we talked to said Thursday and Friday of that week will have a huge impact on their business.

The last time the bridge was shutdown was Labor Day 2009, and restaurant reservations were down.

"This is always a touch and go neighborhood for weekend business anyways, so hopefully we'll just be teaming up with tourists who are staying in town," said Mollie Warren with Perry's Restaurant.

Many cabbies at Oakland International Airport take passengers across the Bay Bridge into San Francisco. That's where the money is. But with the shutdown, it's likely they'll take BART instead. Five days of that will be devastating to cab drivers.

"If they go by the San Mateo Bridge, if they want to, it costs them a lot, like 130 dollars or 140 dollars," taxi driver Mohammed Huqqani said.

Many truck drivers at the Port of Oakland head towards the valley, and weekends are not an issue. But not having that bridge on Thursday and Friday will hurt others. That's because they will have to consume a lot more diesel to get around the bridge.

"If we can cross it in 45 minutes, it's going to take almost two hours," truck driver George Canada said.

Treasure Island has always been an ideal place for group gatherings and the perfect spot for wedding pictures; but not so during those five days. Wedding photographers have had to pick other venues.

The Oakland Athletics play the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cal Bears will go up against the Northwestern Wildcats. Getting to those games will be a challenge for some.

The last time the bridge was closed in 2009, traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge was up 22 percent.

The Sausalito Art Festival is also going on that weekend. There will extra ferries scheduled to get you there.

Transit agencies prepare for bridge shutdown

The closure of the Bay Bridge could leave thousands of commuters looking for a way to get in and out of San Francisco. As a result, several public transportation agencies are already announcing contingency plans.

For example, BART will operate all available cars and the agency is calling in extra personnel to juggle the possible commuter crunch. They will even have limited overnight service. And during non-commute hours, BART will run longer trains.

And then, there's AC Transit. Like other Bay Bridge drivers, those behind the wheel of a bus will have to find another way to get passengers back and forth. With no service across the bridge, AC has put a plan in place to steer their transbay bus line to the nearest BART station so that commuters can take BART into the city.

"Driving around anywhere in the city is going to be a pain," Bay Bridge commuter Joseph Nelson said.

The Bay Bridge carries about 260,000 vehicles a day. That means traffic on the main alternatives like the San Mateo, Dumbarton, Richmond-San Rafael, and Golden Gate bridges may be moving at a snail's pace.

As with past Bay Bridge closures, commuters can expect to be backed up for miles after heavier than normal traffic forced drivers to find other ways to get around.

"Go through Marin or whatever you have to do to get there and do what you gotta do to make it to work," Bay Bridge commuter Graham Oxman said.

Not a bad idea. Golden Gate Ferry and San Francisco Bay Ferry will operate special schedules during the closure. Commuters are advised to plan ahead.

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