Officials Say They’ll Announce New Bay Bridge Opening Date Thursday

The opening date for the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge, which initially had been set for Labor Day and then was pushed back to December or later, will be announced on Thursday, state transportation officials said today.

State Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee members said they will set the new opening date in the wake of a report by the Federal Highway Administration that says making a temporary fix to bolt problems on the new span will make it safe for traffic and it should be put in place as quickly as possible.

The $6.4 billion span is aimed at making the Bay Bridge seismically safe in light of the damage it sustained in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and transportation officials had planned for many years to open it on Labor Day.

But that date was thrown into doubt in March after 32 of the 96 bolts that secure earthquake shock absorbers known as shear keys to the deck of the bridge failed when they were tightened.

The shear keys are designed to prevent swaying during an earthquake.

Transportation officials and construction crews have been working hard to fix the problem and examine all the bolts for the new span but Toll Bridge Program Committee members announced on July 8 that the bridge opening would have to be delayed because they didn’t expect the retrofit of the failed bolts to be completed until Dec. 10.

However, two days later, on July 10, a panel of bridge engineering experts told the committee that a short-fix could be implemented quickly and the new span possibly could open on Labor Day after all.

They said the new span should be opened as soon as possible because they have little confidence that the existing span could withstand even a moderate earthquake.

In a recent letter to Metropolitan Transportation Commission Executive Director Steve Heminger, Federal Highway Administration division administrator Vincent Mammano said his agency agrees that the temporary fix is feasible and the bridge should be opened soon.

Heminger said in a statement today that FHWA reports analyzing both the long-term and short-term plans for fixing the bolt problem “confirm that the temporary fix could allow us to safely move traffic while work continues on a permanent retrofit.”

He said, “Safety has always been the driving factor for any decision related to this lifeline bridge.”

Heminger said fellow Toll Bridge Program Committee members Malcolm Dougherty, the director of Caltrans, and Andre Boutros, the executive director of the California Transportation Commission, will discuss the FHWA reports and set a new bridge opening date at a meeting at the MetroCenter in Oakland at 10 a.m. on Thursday.

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.

Transportation officials said the short-term fix involves inserting large steel plates, known as shims, into each of four bearings, enhancing their ability to safely distribute energy during an earthquake.

Jeff Shuttleworth, Bay City News

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