After much anticipation by an eager San Francisco Bay Area, transportation leaders Thursday morning voted unanimously to open the eastern span of the Bay Bridge the day after Labor Day.
"Labor Day it is!" Steve Heminger, executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, said after the vote, though technically, the bridge will open the day after the holiday on Sept. 3.
Despite the news, the big party that had once been planned on Labor Day is now going to be replaced by a simple chain-cutting ceremony. And the bike path will have a temporary route until the upper deck of the old bridge is removed.
The decision, which was made by the Bay Area Toll Authority citing the fact that the old Bay Bridge span is not seismically safe, also means that the bridge will be shut down for five days from the evening of Aug. 28 to the morning of Sept. 3. Crews will have to pave and stripe, as well as demolish and connect the new span to the Oakland touchdown and Yerba Buena Island.
BART spokesman Jim Allison said there will be limited round-the-clock service to accommodate the bridge closure, but would not be running trains overnight Sept. 2 to Sept. 3 in the morning.
Oakland's mayor Jean Quan expressed some dissatisfaction with the five-day bridge closure at the meeting, saying 30,000 people are expected in the East Bay that weekend for a Gay Pride event on Sept. 1.
Jim Fink was one of the only other critics at the meeting who had urged the delay of the opening.
But the bridge authority members stated that Labor Day holiday traffic is typically lighter, which gives them good reason to shut the bridge down during that time.
And Freider Seible, chair of the Seismic Safety Peer Review Panel, was one of the many others urging the toll bridge group in a letter (PDF) that the state is "taking on a higher risk in delaying the opening of the New Bridge" than in opening it at the "earliest possible date" while continuing the retrofit.
Thursday's vote - which included installing temporary bearing shims - came after the Federal Highway Administration signed off on the temporary fix in a Aug. 9 letter (PDF). The approval stated it was okay to open the bridge with the temporary solution in place before a permanent fix could be built. In July, the MTC had held off opening the bridge indefinitely because of these bolt issues.
The temporary fix involves installing steel plates in the area of the broken bolts to help prevent movement during an earthquake. The cracked bolts have derailed the opening of the eastern span and led to millions of dollars in cost overruns on the $6.4 billion project.
The existing bridge, built in the 1930s, is not considered earthquake-safe, and years of cost overruns and construction and design delays have plagued the new project.
The current problems started in March, when 32 of the 17-foot-long bolts that secure earthquake shock absorbers to the deck of the bridge were tightened.
Tests found that hydrogen had infected the bolts, which were also made of poor quality steel, making them brittle. When tightened to high tension, the brittleness gave way, causing the cracks.
The permanent repair is a steel saddle that would replace the clinching function of the failed bolts.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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