The California Department of Transportation announced tonight there is a possibility that the Bay Bridge will be open for the Friday morning commute, but cautioned motorists not to count on it.

Caltrans spokesman Bart Ney said repairs are expected to be completed by late tonight and that federal inspectors and other outside experts will then examine the repairs before the bridge is reopened. That process will take at least several hours.

“They want to see how the system works with vibration,” Ney said.

The announcement came just hours Dale Bonner, secretary of the state Business, Transportation and Housing Agency, told a packed news conference that “it’s very difficult to say when” the span will reopen but that it wouldn’t be by the Friday morning commute.

Bonner said he hoped that work to repair the steel crossbar and two steel rods that came loose Tuesday evening from the emergency repair of a cracked eyebar over Labor Day weekend would be completed by 10 a.m. Friday. Ney said Bonner mistook the times.

The crossbeam and rods crashed on the cantilever section of the bridge near Yerba Buena Island and damaged several vehicles but no one was seriously hurt. The bridge was closed shortly afterward.

Bonner said it will take at least several hours to test and inspect the completed repairs.
Caltrans officials have made several enhancements to the design of the section that collapsed and are working with the Federal Highway Authority and outside inspectors to make sure the section will be safe, Bonner said.

He said the goal of the repair work is to “keep a very small problem small” and he thinks there’s no evidence that anything is wrong with the design of the section that failed.

Responding to a barrage of questions by reporters about whether the public can be reassured that the bridge will be safe when it’s reopened, Bonner said, “We’re confident this fix won’t pose a risk to the public.”

He said, “We were and are confident that the bridge is safe.”

Metropolitan Transportation Commission spokesman John Goodwin said state transportation officials could wind up losing about $1 million in toll revenues if the Bay Bridge remains closed for most of Friday.

Goodwin said the state-owned toll bridges in the Bay Area netted $335,000 less in toll revenues than they did the previous Wednesday. He said the figures for today won’t be available until Friday but are expected to be similar.

There are seven state-owned bridges in the Bay Area but the closure of the Bay Bridge means that only six have been operating the past two days.

Goodwin said the Bay Bridge is the busiest of the seven spans and accounts for nearly one-third of the daily revenue that they produce.

He said that on the previous Wednesday, on Oct. 21, the seven bridges netted $1.3 million and the Bay Bridge accounted for $453,000 of that total.

But on Wednesday, the six bridges that were open only brought in $967,000 in revenue, according to Goodwin.

Goodwin said the closure of the Bay Bridge led to a 32-percent increase in toll-paying vehicles on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge compared to the prior Wednesday and increases of 25 percent on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge and 10 percent on the Dumbarton Bridge.

He said an interesting phenomenon is that traffic on the Carquinez Bridge actually dropped 23 percent.

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