Workers on the new span of the Bay Bridge. (Andrew Stelzer/KQED)
Workers on the new span of the Bay Bridge (Andrew Stelzer/KQED)

1. The bridge is closing.

Hopefully by now you’ve heard the news that the Bay Bridge is closing tonight (Wednesday, Aug. 28) at 8 p.m., and is scheduled to remain closed until next Tuesday morning, Sept. 3, at 5 a.m.

If you need to get to San Francisco International Airport at 2 a.m. Friday from Berkeley, you’re in luck, because BART is running hourly all-night service until Monday night at 14 stations. However, if you face the same challenge after midnight Monday you need to start looking at alternatives, since BART needs to shut down that night for inspections. (It will reopen at 4 a.m. Tuesday.)

Almost every transit system in the Bay Area is chipping in to help get you from here to there with extra ferries, buses and trains. But if you’re driving, get ready for some serious gridlock. For example, Golden Gate Transit says to expect at least a one-hour delay crossing the bridge between Marin County and the city’s northern point. For more information on your options, check out our Bay Bridge closure guide.

2.  Is the new span safe?

Since a section of the Bay Bridge’s eastern span snapped during the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, there’s been a clear need to retrofit. But the journey to today’s Bay Bridge span has been plagued by problems and doubts. The most recent set of concerns came in March 2013 when Caltrans officials revealed that several giant bolts that attach the bridge deck to earthquake shock absorbers had broken. In mid-August the Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee unanimously approved a decision to open the new span, after earlier approving a temporary retrofit for the broken-bolt problem.

As part of the temporary retrofit, workers are installing steel plates in the area of the broken bolts to help prevent movement during an earthquake. There’s also a permanent fix that is to be finished by mid-December, as workers are building a steel saddle to replace the clinching function of the failed bolts.

Four independent groups have verified the plan, including the Seismic Safety Peer Review Panel, the Federal Highway Administration and two engineering firms.

“It has taken too long. But I do believe when we talk about the safety of the new bridge, we have to keep the safety of the old bridge in mind,” Steve Heminger, executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, told the Associated Press. “It is a comparison. Which one is safer? We need to get people on the safer one as soon as possible.”

You won’t be able to see most of the bolt work this fall, as it’s being completed under the bridge.

3. What are they working on while the bridge is closed this weekend?

While most of the work on the new span of the Bay Bridge has been completed, now it’s time to pull the pieces together, pave the roads, mark the lanes, complete a last inspection and cut the ceremonial chain. On Wednesday night, workers will begin demolishing the old westbound approach to the bridge and then begin one of the biggest projects of the weekend, paving the connecting road from the toll plaza to the bridge.

“It’s not complicated, but we need to complete it,” said Bay Bridge spokesman Andrew Gordon.

Afterthe asphalt is dry and the demolition has been completed, workers will install the temporary pedestrian and bike pathway and stripe the road. Finally, workers will install a barrier rail and clean up for a ceremonial chain cutting at 3 p.m. Monday. If all goes as planned, the first cars will cross the new span at 5 a.m. on Tuesday.

You can watch the construction efforts online.

4. Can I bike across the bridge on Tuesday?

Not quite. At noon on Tuesday, bicyclists and pedestrians will be able to take temporary wooden ramps up to the bridge from the Bay Trail or along a path paralleling Burma Road. However, the full trail —  stretching from Oakland to Yerba Buena Island/Treasure Island — will not be open until 2015. Workers still need to demolish a portion of the old span and connect the paths. Until then, pedestrians will be able to get about as far as the tower. No dedicated parking exists near the trailheads in Emeryville and Oakland, so check out the path map.

There will be two lanes in each direction, one for pedestrians and one for bicyclists. There’s also a speed limit of 15 mph.

View Bay Bridge Pathway Bike Access in a larger map

5. What happens to the old span?

The Bay Area Toll Authority has budgeted $239.1 million and an estimated three years to demolish the old Bay Bridge span. The structure has been divided (on paper) into separate parts, and different contractors will take on each section. California Engineering Contractors Inc. and Silverado Contractors Inc. will remove the cantilever section, the east and west tie-in structures and the S-curve detour structure. The other contracts have not been awarded yet.

The bridge has to be taken down in the reverse order from how it was originally built. The cantilever section will be removed first. One of the hardest parts, though, will be the last: removing the marine foundations.

Some sections of the bridge will be preserved, said Gordon. After that, it’s up to the contractors as to what they want to do with the spare parts.

5 Things You Should Know About the Bay Bridge Closure 28 August,2013Lisa Pickoff-White

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor