ABC7 investigation helps speed up reopening of Bay Bridge toll lane 1 year after fatal crash

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- This Sunday marks one year since a terrible crash on the Bay Bridge that destroyed a toll booth and killed a toll taker. The lane has been closed to commuters since then. But now, after questions from the ABC7 I-Team, transportation officials have finally decided to reopen it.

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It seemed like a no-brainer. It's one of the worst commutes in the nation, so it made sense to reopen that lane. The agencies involved couldn't agree on a plan, apparently, until I-Team Reporter Dan Noyes got involved

Caltrans employee Si Si Han, 46, died when a suspected drunk driver in a truck demolished her toll booth. Since then, that lane has been closed to commuters.

On Monday, with the one-year anniversary of the crash coming this weekend, the I-Team emailed Caltrans asking when the lane might reopen. The answer from spokesman Bob Haus, "No decision yet. I'll let you know if I hear anything." Noyes pressed, "Let's do an on-camera interview and discuss why it has taken almost a year to decide."

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He referred us to the Bay Area Toll Authority, part of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, and we spoke with MTC spokesperson John Goodwin.

Noyes: "Explain to me the decision on toll booth #14."
Goodwin: "Well, there is no official decision that has been made yet."

On Tuesday, Goodwin told Noyes, they probably wouldn't reopen the lane until after installing some form of electronic tolling on the bridge.

"Tentative schedules indicate another four years," he said.

That's right. The lane would be blocked for at least four more years.

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On Wednesday, Noyes interviewed transportation advocate David Schonbrunn of Transdef.

"Show us what it would take to accelerate that project so as to not waste money, but to actually accomplish something now," said Schonbrunn.

Then on Thursday, there was a sudden change. Caltrans sent us another email announcing "a project to reopen the lane with new Fastrak equipment available for use sometime in early 2019."

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Goodwin told Noyes the MTC and Caltrans had been trying to agree on a plan for lane 14, but bureaucratic inertia is sometimes difficult to overcome.

Goodwin: "The people who say things take too long are absolutely right."
Noyes: "You understand the frustration."
Goodwin: "Oh, absolutely. I'm a driver, too."

Goodwin says the I-Team sped up the process, in this case. Relief to commuters may be on the way, but UC Berkeley Professor of Civil Engineering Mike Cassidy tells us that opening the lane won't make much difference. He points to an ABC7 drone video of the morning rush.

"From those drones, we can see even with the toll booth closure," said Cassidy. "Large queues still remain pinned at the metering lights."

A backup at the metering lights and open road ahead. Cassidy says transit officials should consider speeding up the metering light intervals, "If you're metering too tightly here and you're not fully using all of the 5-lane capacity of the bridge, you are creating extra delay to all travelers."

There's some fine-tuning ahead.

By the way, the suspected drunk driver involved in that crash faces seven felony counts and has a bail reduction hearing coming up in two weeks. He's currently held at Santa Rita Jail.

Go here for the GoFundMe site for Han's family.
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