Bay Bridge work will complicate commutes, visits 

Construction and demolition work on the Bay Bridge’s western approach next month is expected to cause confusion and delays for the 280,000 vehicles that use the bridge every day.

Weekend visitors to San Francisco should expect nighttime bridge closures and delays when they leave and commuters coming in for work from the East Bay will face different lane options and a new Fifth Street offramp location — a "major traffic alignment that could be confusing," according to agency spokesman Bart Ney.

The $429 million project is the second of three major steps in the demolition and rebuilding of the western approach.

Although Caltrans promises to keep commuter traffic flowing during the weekdays by doing the majority of the work during the late-night and early-morning hours and on weekends, backups are still expected.

One warning is for out-of-town drivers who like to stay in The City after midnight: For the first two weekends in June, the lower deck of the Bay Bridge, which takes drivers to the East Bay, will be closed from midnight to 10 a.m. BART will run 24-hour service those weekends.

On those two weekends, Caltrans will also close the First Street and Essex Street onramps to the Bay Bridge from 10 p.m. Friday night to 5 a.m. Monday morning. This is expected to make already tough late-afternoon weekend traffic even more grueling.

"The worst traffic will be on Saturdays and Sundays, 4 and 5 p.m.," said Dennis Turchon, Caltrans project construction manager. "On an unimpacted weekend, it takes you an hour to get to the lower deck anyway."

There will also be a new lane configuration for weekday East Bay commuters starting on the morning of June 5 that Caltrans officials expect will affect rush-hour traffic.

As drivers come off the Bay Bridge, instead of having four lanes go straight ahead to westbound Interstate 80, only three left lanes will go forward, while two lanes will head in the direction of the Fremont Street/Folsom Street offramp. The left offramp lane will split, however, creating a bypass that curves around the demolition and construction work being done and returns to westbound I-80.

Although the temporary split is scheduled to be in place until October 2006, Caltrans officials are hopeful that it will only take a few weeks for commuters to adjust to the change.

"It will be slower for a bit while people figure out where they need to go," Turchon said.

beslinger@examiner.com

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Bonnie Eslinger

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