Officials unsure about timetable for Maze repairs 

Two days after a gasoline tanker crash destroyed a portion of the MacArthur Maze, it remains unclear how long it will take to repair the highway — one of the most congested stretches of pavement in the Bay Area.

The Sunday morning crash shut down portions of two major interstates — eastbound I-580 and southbound I-880 — and left transit officials scrambling to assess the damage, beef up public transportation services and relieve traffic problems.

Early Sunday morning, a gasoline tanker traveling on the connector between eastbound I-80 and southbound I-880 slammed into a guardrail, causing 8,600 gallons of unleaded gasoline to burst into flames.

The intensity of the fire, which reached up to 2,750 degrees, caused 750 feet of the elevated eastbound I-580 overpass above to buckle and slam down on the southbound I-880 connector.

On Monday, Caltrans crews worked feverishly to clear the portion of I-580 that fell. Engineers are expected to clear most of the debris away from I-880 today, and engineers will be able to access the damage and costs of repairs, Caltrans Director Will Kempton said.

"It is our hope that the damage to 880 is minimal. If that’s the case, we will open that to traffic in a relatively short period of time," Kempton said. "If we determine there is major damage, all bets are off."

There are three interstates in the area of the crash: From San Francisco, eastbound I-580 heads out to Livermore, southbound I-880 goes to Oakland and eastbound I-80 goes to Sacramento.

Although Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency to accelerate cleanup and rebuilding efforts, Kempton said Caltrans has already applied for federal assistance for the repairs, for which he did not have an estimate. He said, however, that finding the steel to rebuild I-580 could pose a problem and that officials are scouring the country for the material.

Authorities predicted the crash would cause the worst disruption for commuters since the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake damaged the Bay Bridge, causing it to close for a month.

Nearly 75,000 vehicles use the damaged portion of the road every day. But, because the accident occurred where three highways converge, authorities said it causes commuting problems for hundreds of thousands of people. State transportation officials said 285,000 commuters take the Bay Bridge into The City each day.

The crash occurred at a time when city officials are expecting a surge in tourism, traffic congestion and pedestrian activity, Mayor Gavin Newsom said Monday.

This week, seven cruise ships will dock in San Francisco, and the San Francisco Giants will play night games at AT&T Park through Friday. The Golden State Warriors may have a home playoffgame Thursday night.

arocha@examiner.com

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