Monday, October 26, 2009

Bay Bridge Closure

From the San Fransisco Chronicle:

(10-27) 21:12 PDT SAN FRANCISCO -- Three pieces of an emergency repair to the Bay Bridge's cantilever section made over Labor Day weekend snapped and crashed onto the upper deck of the span late Tuesday afternoon, striking three vehicles and forcing the indefinite closure of the region's busiest bridge.

Caltrans officials ordered the closure of the bridge in both directions shortly after 7 p.m. and said late Tuesday night that it would be closed indefinitely. Residents of Treasure Island were being allowed access from the San Francisco end of the bridge.

The pieces that snapped were two high-strength steel rods and a crossbeam from a steel saddle, said Tony Anziano, Caltrans toll bridge program manager. Those parts were installed over Labor Day weekend during a repair job that delayed the reopening of the bridge following scheduled work.

"It's way too early to say" what happened, Anziano said. "We have to take a careful look at it."

The pieces crashed across the westbound lanes of the Bay Bridge's eastern span, east of Yerba Buena Island, about 5:30 p.m., according to CHP Officer Peter Van Eckhardt. They hit three vehicles, but miraculously, nobody was seriously injured.

The incident caused the CHP to immediately close three lanes of the upper deck, promptly snarling traffic across the eastern span. Within hours, authorities began clearing traffic from both decks of the bridge, preparing it for a full closure so that engineers could inspect the damage.

"We're dealing with some high winds, and it's dark out there," said Bart Ney, a Caltrans spokesman. "We want to be as safe and as thorough as possible."

With an extended closure of the Bay Area's busiest bridge possible, Bay Area transportation officials were preparing contingency plans.

BART spokesman Linton Johnson said the agency would bring in extra train operators today in anticipation of the thousands of additional riders likely to flock to the system.

"We're going to use every available piece of equipment," Johnson said, "meaning all the cars we can possibly muster into service."

BART had near-record ridership on Sept. 4, the Friday of the Labor Day weekend bridge closure.

Golden Gate Ferry will have an extra high-speed ferry ready if needed any time after 7 a.m. Plans for other ferries were still being developed Tuesday night.

The area of the bridge where the pieces broke off was where, over Labor Day weekend, crews found a critical flaw on a steel structural beam, called an eyebar, helping to hold up the eastern span.

The crack was discovered during the planned four-day shutdown of the span to install the 288-foot S-turn but was unrelated to that project.

Caltrans engineers said then that there were enough safeguards in the bridge design that the crack could not have led to the bridge collapsing.

The problem forced officials to push back the announced reopening of the span while emergency repairs were made. Working nearly 70 hours nonstop, crews wrapped a steel brace around the broken beam to redistribute tension away from the damaged area. That brace was then attached to another one set lower on the span using steel rods.

In the end, the bridge reopened in time for most of the morning commute the day after Labor Day.

At the time, Dan Himick, president of the chief contractor on the project, C.C. Myers Inc., said, "Everything went perfect."

On Tuesday night, Beth Ruyak, a spokesman for C.C. Myers, said the company was committed to helping with the repair.

After the pieces fell, the backups caused confusion and frustration among commuters. Hundreds of stalled drivers cut through the toll plaza parking lot to get out of the westbound lanes. Drivers pulling through appeared perplexed about what was going on. Hundreds of other drivers waited to cross the bridge.

Driver Marilyn Mackel, 46, of Oakland pulled off into the toll plaza parking lot, visibly frustrated. She was headed west on her way to work as a waitress at Gussie's, a chicken and waffle house in San Francisco's Fillmore neighborhood. "This is messed up," she said. "It's the second time it happened to me. I might lose my job. I need that money. I live off my tips."

She said she was stuck in traffic on Oct. 14 when a Safeway truck overturned on the highway. Taking BART is not a good option because she works nights, she said.

Chris and Elaine Zapata of Hayward were headed to San Francisco for a date night - the married couple have four children and it was to be their first getaway in more than a month, when they got stuck in the traffic jam. They pulled off and parked at the toll plaza and opened up a laptop to watch an episode of "The Office" to pass the time.

After learning that the bridge was being shut down indefinitely, Elaine Zapata resigned herself to the fact that it was going to be a short date: "I guess we'll just go back home."

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