Bay Bridge construction to make for safer, prettier commute

The Golden Gate Bridge is considered by most to be San Francisco’s most beautiful landmark, but the neighboring Bay Bridge boasts the most attention with more than 280,000 vehicles traveling across the span every day.

A newer and stronger bridge is set to open to traffic in 2013 and the new tower is already overshadowing the current span. Caltrans spokesman Bart Ney said soon after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake devastated the Bay Bridge researchers began exploring how they can make the bridge strong enough to withstand a large-scale earthquake. 

A lot of input from industry leaders from around the world has gone into making the Bay Bridge the most advanced seismic structure in the world,” Ney said.

Although the new tower is already up, Ney said there is still a lot of work to do. The next phase involves widening the incline section which carries the westbound traffic toward San Francisco and stringing the cable that connects the bridge to the deck. The bridge will be closed to westbound traffic for two to three days at some point between February and April of next year with traffic shifted toward the south. Workers will clear the way for the eastbound landing of the bridge by demolishing the northernmost end of the incline.

One of the biggest challenges for Caltrans has been keeping the bridge open to traffic during construction. Many commuters are not looking forward to the bridge closing down for construction.

SF State nursing student Dolores Benitez remembers feeling claustrophobic riding BART for the few days when the bridge was closed last year. 

I hated riding the BART,” said Benitez who commutes from American Canyon. “But I’m not going to pay for the over-priced ferry or travel out of my way and take the Golden Gate Bridge.”

Funding for the new $6 billion span comes primarily from toll proceeds. Last year the Bay Area Toll Authority changed the toll cost on most bridges from $4 to $5, while also charging the usually free-to-cross car poolers $2.50.

Joseph Manansala has been carpooling to San Francisco for more than 10 years. He was not pleased with the toll increase, but he figures that commuting via the Bay Bridge is still cheaper than any other form of transportation to get to the city.

Our hands are pretty much tied,” Manasala said. “You have to pay up or find another job outside of San Francisco.”

Once the new span is finished, the old eastern span will be removed piece by piece and donated to local museums and parks wanting to showcase the historical structure, according to Ney.

Although the primary purpose of retrofitting the bridge is to make the bridge safer for commuters, the another goal is to put emphasis on the aesthetics, such as implementing the side-by-side open skyway showcasing the San Francisco skyline. The Golden State Warriors basketball team are already using the image of the new span as part of their uniform.

The Bay Bridge is going to be something more than an A to Z bridge,” Ney said. “All the time and effort put into the design of the bridge will make it one of the most unique and iconic bridges in the world.”