America Sees Our Eastern Span

Your faithful blogger has been on a quick trip east, talking up Oakland as usual.  No one really cared much about Oakland, until 60 Minutes came to the rescue last night.  They aired a story about the urgent need to earthquake-proof the Bay Bridge, slinging superlatives about the new Eastern Span under construction.  We were so proud!

Of course, the TV segment considered the grandparent and grandchild bridges side-by-side.  Caltrans Spokesman Bart Ney received plenty of airtime and he showed the new bridge in ways we have already seen.  The original bridge was rigid, and a marvel for its time.  The new bridge enables movement, and certain parts can bend and break so the whole remains intact.

In typical 60 Minutes style, the piece played up the current risks of living with the grandparent Eastern Span.  The facts are undeniable, since the Hayward Fault quake and the replacement bridge are both well overdue.  Steve Heminger, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission almost shrugged his shoulders, responding to the concerns in a hopeful yet realistic manner.

This TV program didn’t touch on what Bay Area residents think or do about earthquake preparations.  Oaklanders even ran a major drill in Oakland this past weekend.  Residents are learning, finally, where to turn off their gas and what they should do to be self-sufficient for a couple days.  There’s no point in living with hysterical fear, que sera, sera.

By 2013, the Eastern Span will likely open for business.  In the meantime, all of America glimpsed this gorgeous engineering marvel and acknowledged the Contra Costa and Oakland – at least for a few fleeting minutes.

Imagine Bay Bridge As Tourist Destination

With the new and gorgeous Eastern Span of the Oakland Bay Bridge only a couple years away, there’s an opportunity to create an Oakland-based Gateway Park – and to draw visitors of all stripes.  The Gateway Park Working Group, consisting of reps from an alphabet soup of public agencies, is trying to create this park from scratch.

Imagine all the visitors at Gateway Park. If there’s an easy way to get there, we think that visitors would flock to this new Contra Costa vantage point.  At land’s end, you would glimpse glorious views of San Francisco to rival other Bay Area locales.  In addition, Treasure Island, two bridge spans and the bay itself are better than whipped cream and cherries.

Tourists and locals need something to do, once there.  The park could become a recreational destination, where bicyclers are encouraged to take the out-and-back trip between the new Eastern Span and Treasure Island.  There might be a kayak launch pad at this location.  Plus we envision historical and environmental signage placed around the walking trails.

Remember to feed the masses. To become a full-fledged tourist spot, there’s gotta be places to park, hang out, buy memorabilia and grab a snack.  We have the competitive chops to do “one better” than what you get at the Golden Gate Bridge, especially the dismal food offerings.

Coordination among different landowners comes into play.  The park site is old U.S. Army property now administered by the East Bay Regional Park District.  The west gateway area, slotted for retail uses, is owned by the City of Oakland.  Perhaps some of the other contiguous landowners should get in this game as well, to ensure there’s enough space to fulfill visitor dreams.

At this point, the Gateway Park Working Group has generated plans which are available here.  They are asking the public to weigh in, through this park survey.  Be heard now, on this legacy in-the-making!

Fingers Crossed To Re-Open Bay Bridge

We do want our dowager, the Oakland Bay Bridge, to be treated and released from the ICU soon.  It’s important to make her Eastern Span healthy and safe, during those last few years in service.  It’s also hard to wait patiently for the bridge to re-open – especially if you are one of those unlucky Montclair-to-San Francisco commuters.

Keep Fingers Crossed

This morning, the travel times were atrocious.  We heard about three-hour commutes into San Francisco while cars crawled, at 10-15 mph, across the Richmond, Golden Gate and San Mateo bridges respectively.  No word on Dumbarton speeds, which may have been a bit better.

According to various traffic reports, BART handled a half-million passengers.  In the East Bay, this morning’s commuter count jumped nearly 50 percent, from 56 to 83 thousand passengers.  We also heard the Houston Rockets took a ferry boat to play the Warriors.

What’s happening now? Caltrans is working on a better fix to the I-Bar problem first discovered last Labor Day, including stronger welds and pieces that are tied together.  We sure hope the quick-fatigue problem will be resolved, so cumulative traffic and high winds won’t knock things down again!

We know the Bay Bridge will be closed again tomorrow.  Caltrans spokeman, Bart Ney, would not commit to any opening time – better safe than sorry.

November 2nd Update:  Finally, the Oakland Bay Bridge re-opened this morning.  After some re-designs, fixes, tests and more tests, Caltrans decided this effort would hold. Of course, our regular commuting patterns return tomorrow.

Bay Bridge Dowager Shows Her Age

We’ve been spellbound by the Oakland Bay Bridge construction this weekend, and the bridge is definitely showing her age.  During the full-bridge inspection of the Eastern Span, Caltrans engineers discovered an I-Bar crack, and are running at warp speed to fix this support structure problem.

Caltrans Morning Briefing

Mike Fornier, Caltrans principal construction engineer, explained “the crack we discovered is significant, it’s visual from the ground, and it’s about 100 feet in the air.”  There are eight I-Bars, so the other seven have taken up the load but still…this is a serious problem.

The 73-year-old piece has rusted out and must be fixed right now.  The crack is far away from the current bridge bypass and is thoroughly unrelated to this bypass construction.  Caltrans believes the crack developed during the past few months, but could have been related to original weaknesses in the metal.

This morning, we all learned the bridge would have been closed to fix this problem alone!  Of course, the engineering cognoscenti got to work immediately:  a design plan was developed; materials were ordered; and parts are now getting fabricated.  Engineers are awaiting deliveries, and a 10-man crew is ready to make the repairs.

Yes, Caltrans is committed to completing this as quickly as possible.  But we can’t help but think this sounds like one of those TV design shows with a deadline.  Will this get fixed by Tuesday morning at 5am?  In this case, fixing it matters more than making it pretty in time.

P.S.  The good news is the Oakland Bay Bridge bypass has been successful, and final joints are getting installed there.  “The 3600-ton segment was set down within a half-inch tolerance,” said Caltrans Spokesman Bart Ney, “right on the money.”

September 8th update: The bridge opened around 6:30am this morning, congrats to Caltrans.
October 27th update: The bridge closed again at 8:00pm, when part of the fix fell down (more here).

Goodbye To The Old Eastern Span

As planned and planned, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge is closed for the next four days. The bridge that we took for our entire lives will be no more, as the detoured route will be in place starting Tuesday morning.

We captured a little history in the making, with the very last cars making their way on the old Eastern Span over to Yerba Buena Island.  Here are screenshots taken from 8pm through 9pm tonight.  You can see the last passenger cars, no traffic at all, construction vehicles arriving, and apparatus lighting up and settling in…below.

800 pm

815 pm

830 pm

900 pm

The weekend activities will be fascinating to behold, because of the sheer project scale:  the Oakland Bay Bridge undergoes its very own bypass surgery.  While the new section of bridge is a “temporary fix” for the next few years, this replacement takes a highly-orchestrated feat of engineering ingenuity.

Construction’s supposed to wrap up by the wee hours of Tuesday, and we are holding our collective breaths that the bypass succeeds.  Maybe the bridge karma is good right now, and this project will even finish up early like the smaller project two years ago.

In the meantime?  See what’s happening live at the Caltrans construction video, which works really well.  Also some of the local TV stations have nice video streams:  CBS5 video camKTVU2 video camABC7 video camKRON4 video cams.

For any Oakland-to-San Francisco commuters, please feel free to share your war stories tomorrow.  We feel for you.  The rest of us will avoid that other city for now, thank you.