Beacon of innovation begins to take shape 

The first piece of a 525-foot tower that will be the centerpiece of the new Bay Bridge’s self-anchored suspension span is slated to be set in place today.

Bridge officials have hailed the self-anchored suspension bridge, a sweeping structure that will be the largest of its kind when completed, as the premiere piece of the at-times controversial new eastern span, a $6.2 billion undertaking scheduled to be completed in late 2013.

The 2,047-foot section will connect motorists from the Oakland skyway to Yerba Buena Island. Unlike normal suspension bridges, which have two cables, the self-anchored section will have just one cable that wraps around the width of the structure.

“This is probably one of the most challenging bridges ever built, and this tower will be the signature of the bridge,” said Bart Ney, spokesman for Caltrans.

The new eastern span, which will be a set of separate roadways as opposed to the current double-decker design, will be a seismic upgrade from the existing bridge, and it will feature open views of the Bay and a 15-foot-wide bike and pedestrian path, according to Caltrans documents.

When Caltrans first began exploring options for the eastern span in 1997 — it was damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake — an advisory panel said a skyway alignment, a simpler engineering design, would cost $1 billion. That same panel estimated that a self-anchored suspension span would add an extra $340 million to the price tag. After political fighting, however, the suspension model was selected.

The costs for the new section have since risen to $2 billion, and the entire eastern span is now projected to cost $6.2 billion, Metropolitan Transportation Commission spokesman John Goodwin said. The contract for the self-anchored suspension span is the largest for a public works project in California history.

The 165-foot, 12,000-ton section, called a lift, being placed in the Bay today is one of five such pieces that comprise the first section of the 525-foot tower, which is designed to withstand a massive earthquake. In total, four sections will be fitted together to make up the tower, which is projected to be completed in late 2012 or early 2013. The first section could be done in about two weeks, Goodwin said. The lifts for the second section, which are being fabricated in China, are scheduled to arrive in mid-September.


New icon in the Bay

The new East Span of the Bay Bridge, which will reach a major milestone today when the first piece of the tower of the self-anchored suspension bridge is installed, is projected to be open to traffic within four years.

October 1989: Loma Prieta earthquake results in portion of the East Span of the Bay Bridge collapsing and killing motorists.
February 1997: Gov. Pete Wilson announces that East Span will be rebuilt.
May 1998: Caltrans Engineering and Design Advisory Panel recommends incorporating a self-anchored suspension bridge into eastern span, which would cost $1.5 billion.
January 2002: At East Span project groundbreaking, Caltrans says span will open in 2007.
June 2002: Caltrans says East Span will open in 2009
March 2003: Caltrans increases East Span cost estimate to $3 billion, citing the unique scale and complexity of the project.
December 2009: East Span cost estimated at $6.3 billion, including $2.3 billion for self-anchored suspension bridge.
7/28/2010: First piece of 525-foot tower of self-anchored suspension span is placed in foundation
August 2010: Projected completion date of first section of tower
September 2010: Projected arrival of second set of pieces of tower
Late 2012/early 2013: Projected completion date of tower on self-anchored suspension span
2013: Projected finish date for entire East Span
2014: Projected opening of East Span for traffic

Source: Caltrans

Building blocks

525 feet Height of tower at center of self-anchored suspension span
165 feet Height of piece being erected today
12,000 tons Weight of piece being erected today
2,047 feet Length of self-anchored suspension span
$2 billion Cost to build self-anchored suspension span
$6.2 billion Cost to build entire new eastern span
280,000 Average number of weekday motorists on Bay Bridge

Source: Caltrans

This article was corrected Wednesday, July 28, 2010. The original article cited Metropolitan Transportation Commission spokesman Jeff Goodwin. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission spokesman's name is John Goodwin.


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