Official: New Bay Bridge Will Offer Improved Driving Experience, Great Views

In addition to being safer during earthquakes, drivers will have a better overall experience when they drive across the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge when it opens in two weeks, a bridge spokesman said today.

Andrew Gordon said, “It will be a very different experience for drivers” because traffic flow will improve, curves will be more subtle and graceful and eastbound drivers will have great views of the Port of Oakland and the East Bay hills.

In fact, Gordon said the views will be so good that bridge officials are warning drivers to keep their eyes on the road and “keep the gawking for their passengers.”

That’s because the new span will have parallel side-by-side decks, in contrast to the current bridge, which has an eastbound lower deck and a westbound upper deck, Gordon said.

“Driving will feel more wide open,” he said.

The new span will have five lanes in each direction, as the current span does, but there also will be two shoulders in each direction, which means that stalls and accidents won’t clog the bridge as often as they currently do, Gordon said.

In addition, maintenance work on the bridge can be done without closing lanes, he said.

The main reason transportation officials have been building the new $6.4 billion span is that it will be seismically safer than the existing span, which opened in 1936 and had a deck collapse in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

Transportation officials have been planning for a long time to open the new span on Sept. 3 but that opening date was thrown in doubt in March when it was discovered that a significant number of 96 bolts that secure earthquake shock absorbers known as shear keys to the deck of the bridge failed when they were tightened on a pier east of Yerba Buena Island.

The long-term solution to fixing the broken bolts is to cover them with an exterior saddle and cable system that is encased in concrete but that work isn’t expected to be completed until mid-December, Gordon said.

However, last week transportation officials approved a short-term fix that involved inserting large steel plates, known as shims, into each of four bearings, enhancing their ability to safely distribute energy during an earthquake.

That work was completed over the weekend, Gordon said.

The entire Bay Bridge will be closed in both directions from 8 p.m. on Aug. 28 to 5 a.m. on Sept. 3, the day after Labor Day, to complete additional work that must be completed before the new span can be opened to the driving public.

But Gordon said “none of the work will be challenging” and the work will be much less complicated than when the Bay Bridge was closed for construction work during previous Labor Day weekend closures in 2006, 2007 and 2009.

The work over Labor Day weekend primarily will involve paving, striping lanes and erecting barrier rails, Gordon said.

He said most of the work on the new eastern span will be on its eastern side, which is at the Oakland touchdown and the toll plaza, and its western side, which at the Yerba Buena Island transition structure and the Yerba Buena Island Tunnel.

In addition, maintenance work will be performed on the western span, such as replacing lighting fixtures, cleaning and painting cables and repairing finger joints, Gordon said.

Describing the attitude of workers as they’re putting the finishing touches on the new span, he said, “There’s nervous energy but everyone is confident it will be done.”

Jeff Shuttleworth, Bay City News

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