Bay Bridge eastern span takes place in the skyline 20 years after earthquake 

Almost 22 years after the Loma Prieta earthquake exposed the frailties of the original Bay Bridge, and following a decade of delays and billions of dollars in cost overruns, the outline of the replacement span is finally taking shape.

Click on the photo at right for more images of the new eastern span of the bridge.

Monday night, work crews lit up the catwalks of the new bridge’s self-anchored suspension span, illuminating how the unique eastern portion of the bridge will look when construction is finally completed in two years.

While longtime local residents may be asking whether the project will ever be completed, a number of significant milestones are now within reach, putting the undertaking tantalizingly close to realization.

On Sunday, the last steel sections of the self-anchored suspension span — the eastern segment that connects Yerba Buena Island to Oakland — arrived from China, putting that portion of the bridge on schedule for completion by this fall.

Next January, crews will begin installing the single-suspension cable on the span, which will anchor the bridge to the 525-foot tower on the eastern portion. Unlike most suspension bridges, in which multiple cables on each side of the highway are firmly attached to the tower and the roadway, self-anchored suspension spans weave a single cable from the top of the tower down beneath the roadway and back up top, according to Caltrans spokesman Bart Ney, the chief communications officer for the project.

Because the sun can cause cables to change in size, installation of the massive cable will proceed at night. Workers will hoist the 5,291-ton cable through the catwalk structure connected to the 525-foot central tower. By lighting up the catwalks at night, the final design of the rebuilt Bay Bridge will be evident to all onlookers.

After Loma Prieta crumpled portions of what was then a 53-year-old structure, the entire 8.4-mile Bay Bridge was originally scheduled to be retrofitted. That project was expected to cost $100 million and be finished by the beginning of this decade, Ney said.

However, political turmoil, bureaucratic delays and design changes — the entire eastern span is being replaced while the western side has just been rehabilitated — have caused the project’s price tag to bloat to $6.3 billion, not including interest. Construction finally began in 2002, and completion has now been pushed back to 2013.

Motorists can expect at least one more major traffic change before the project is completed. In early 2012, westbound traffic will be shut down for a couple of days so that crews can set up a temporary detour segment near Yerba Buena Island.  Later this year, Ney is expected to release the specifics of when the shutdown will take place.
The entire finished product of the Bay Bridge is expected to be completed by late 2013, probably around September or October, although it could be a few months earlier, Ney said.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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Will Reisman

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