Under fire for recent accidents on the Bay Bridge, Caltrans is implementing a slew of safety measures along the bridge’s S-curve, where a big-rig toppled over a traffic barrier early this morning, killing a trucker from Hayward.
The crash happened at about 3:30 a.m. when the driver of a westbound big-rig carrying a load of pears lost control on the S-curve and went over the barrier, falling about 200 feet to Yerba Buena Island below, CHP Officer Trent Cross said.
The driver was killed and the truck was reduced to a pile of mangled debris.
Witnesses told the CHP the big-rig was traveling at about 50 mph at the time of the crash, Cross said.
The speed limit on most of the bridge is 50 mph, but the limit drops to 40 mph on the S-curve, with a maximum of 35 mph recommended on the sharpest curves.
“At this point it appears that this was a tragic accident that could have been prevented had that driver been following the law,” CHP Assistant Chief Bridget Lott said at a news conference this afternoon.
Cross said the load of pears shifted as the big-rig driver negotiated the curve. The truck veered to the side of the road, scraped along the guardrail and then rolled over the side, he said.
The guardrail is 36 inches high, Caltrans spokesman Bart Ney said. He said it is crash-tested for passenger vehicles but not for large commercial vehicles.
More than 40 accidents have occurred on the bridge’s S-curve since the temporary section of roadway was installed over the Labor Day weekend.
Caltrans officials today highlighted a host of safety measures that are in place or will be installed soon, and maintained that the problem is drivers’ speed, not the bridge’s design.
However, at least one Bay Area lawmaker today questioned the agency’s emphasis on speed.
“California bridges and highways are designed to safely accommodate the fact that folks are going to exceed the speed limit on a fairly frequent basis,” said state Sen. Joe Simitian, who sits on the state Senate Committee on Transportation and Housing.
He pointed out that the driver was only traveling 10 to 15 mph over the speed limit at the time of the crash.
Ney today said safety measures recently installed near the S-curve include extra speed limit signs, raised bumps between lanes to alert drivers if they veer off track, a grit covering over a steel portion of roadway, and fencing to prevent drivers from looking into the construction area to the side of the current span.
Tonight, Caltrans will replace two signs damaged by the big-rig this morning and will add several more signs alerting drivers that a curve is coming up. Crews will also realign the guardrail, which was slightly deformed in the crash.
On Tuesday, reflective stripes will be added along the barriers on the roadway’s edge, Ney said. In the next few weeks, radar signs will be installed that show drivers how fast they are going as they pass. A large overhead sign pointing out the 40 mph speed zone will be fixed to the upper deck, and flashing beacons will be set up.
“We’re basically putting in everything that we can think of,” Ney said.
Simitian said that while the S-curve is “obviously a source of continuing concern,” he is also alarmed by other Bay Bridge problems including the recent unplanned closure caused by the failure of a repair to a cracked eyebar, which sent thousands of pounds of metal crashing onto the upper deck.
“Twenty years after the Loma Prieta earthquake, we still don’t have a completed project, tolls are continuing to go up…we’ve got delays and cost overruns that are seemingly without end and now we’ve had closures that have had a multimillion-dollar impact on the Bay Area economy,” Simitian said.
Those issues will be discussed at a legislative hearing in Sacramento on Jan. 12, Simitian said.
“I think the public is frustrated,” he said.