We made it!
The new eastern span of the Bay Bridge opened to the public at 10:15 last night, seven hours ahead of the announced opening. Traffic is absolutely horrible, with backups extending for miles (for those of you who know the Bay Area, as I write this, I-80 is a parking lot all the way to Pinole). Reports suggest it’s mostly due to confusion over the new layout of the lanes around the toll plaza; I suspect there’s also a contribution from gawkers. Note: some form of the following statement appears to be required in all articles about the new span: “The new span has wide shoulders which could be used to pull over to take pictures, but should not. The CHP will issue tickets for any non-emergency use of the shoulders.”
If you’re a fan of time-lapse videos (and really, who isn’t?), you should check out Earthcam’s “official time-lapse movie”:
Five years of construction pictures condensed into a four minute movie. For some strange reason, there doesn’t seem to be any sign of the infamous broken bolts, the notorious saddle, or even the scandalous temporary shims.
Assuming everything continues smoothly between now and dinner time, Maggie and I plan to toast the bridge with a glass of semi-appropriate wine. I say “semi-appropriate”, because this stuff runs $3 a bottle, so–unlike the $6.4 billion dollar bridge–it’s not going to be a strain on anybody’s budget. As one reviewer noted, a bottle of Bay Bridge wine will cost you less than driving across the actual bridge. (My favorite review, by the way, likens the scent of the wine to “a combination of bubble gum and twinkies”. If we survive the experience, I’ll report back on our own impressions.
Despite the expected giddiness about getting the bridge into service, sharp words continue to be exchanged over a proposal out of LA to name the refurbished western span for former mayor Willie Brown. We talked about the proposal back in June when it first surfaced. The renaming resolution snuck through the state Assembly a couple of weeks ago, buried in the flood of bills passed as the legislative session came to an end. Now it just needs to get through the Senate. Given that the bill is being pushed by the NAACP in the wake of the observances of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, efforts to defeat it face a tough battle. As one might expect, Brown remains non-committal on the proposal.
Unfortunately, the renaming proposal seems to be the only contentious point these days. We’ve been seeing a flood of quotes expressing the notion that now that the bridge is open, people will forget about the cost overruns, the botched bolts, and all of the other problems that have plagued the bridge. In other words, Caltrans and the politicians want to sweep the problems off the bridge and into SF Bay. Business as usual, ignore the man behind the curtain. Kudos to state Senate Transportation Commission Chairman Mark DeSaulnier for bucking the trend: “What I’m worried about is that once it opens, the feeling will be, ‘Sure there were a lot of mistakes, but let’s forget about it – look at what a great bridge it is,’ when what we really need is some honest discussions about what happened here.”
We still don’t know who signed off on the technical design that makes it impossible to replace the bolts, who signed off on the selection and installation of the bolts despite the fact that they were never tested and they violate Caltrans’ own standards, or even how the bolts managed to avoid testing in the first place. Chances are good that unless DeSaulnier stands firm (as firm as the new bridge itself?), we’ll never know. But that’s OK, because we have a shiny new bridge. Ooh, shiny…