Bay Area Commuters Forced To Scramble
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
It had all makings of a commuter's nightmare: take one of the busiest bridges in the country and shut it down. That's what happened after construction crews discovered a crack in the Bay Bridge. That's the bridge that connects San Francisco to Oakland and other cities on the east of San Francisco. This morning, officials announced that they are reopening the bridge. NPR's Richard Gonzales is out there in the morning rush, and he joins us now from a BART rail station. Hello.
RICHARD GONZALES: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: So, I guess you're at the rail station - well, maybe you always take the rail - take the Metro to the city, but - partly because a lot of people did that this morning. And the bridge was supposed to be closed all - up until tomorrow. What prompted officials to reopen it sooner?
GONZALES: Well, they reopened it sooner because they were able to fix a crack in the bridge they had discovered over the weekend. The bridge had been closed for the Labor Day weekend for this massive seismic retrofit as part of the construction of a new Bay Bridge that is scheduled to open in 2013. There was a 300-foot section of the bridge that was cut out of the 73-year-old structure, and another section was slipped into its place. Work was entirely on schedule when they discovered a problem. They discovered this crack in the bridge, and so they decided to keep the bridge closed for at least another day. The original plan was keep - to keep the bridge closed until five A.M. tomorrow morning to - five A.M. Wednesday morning, and people begun making alternate plans. But then it was just announced just a few minutes ago that the bridge will open today, this morning.
MONTAGNE: So that crack - which sounds a little scary, probably, to most people - they've fixed it so that there's no longer concern for commuters passing over this bridge?
GONZALES: Well, that's right. They say that the bridge now is safer than when it was closed on Friday. This crack is on what's known as an I-bar beam that is on the opposite end of the bridge from where the seismic retrofit construction was happening. Officials do not believe this crack was caused by their work over the weekend. The last time they had inspected the bridge was 2007, about two years ago. There was no crack. This time, they found this crack, and they also found that there was a little bit of rust in that crack. So it's been there for a while. So, you know, we've been driving over this bridge back and forth, a quarter of a million people every day, with this bridge cracked, but now it's been fixed. They attached a, basically, a steel saddle around that crack to distribute the stress caused by it. And they say that it's safe now.
MONTAGNE: Richard, you're a regular commuter there, between the two sides of the bay. How much time is this bridge situation, you know, adding to the commuting, even just up until this moment in time?
GONZALES: Well, it depends on how you go. I drive in. I pick up casual carpoolers. I can get into San Francisco from Oakland in about 20 to 25 minutes. If you don't do that and decide to drive alone, it can take up to an hour to get across that bridge. People who are anticipating that with the closure of the bridge and if they had to take a detour around the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge, that they would take at least an hour to get into the city. So a lot of people are choosing to take BART in this morning. And I would up in the BART parking lot talking with people who said they were jumping on the train about an hour earlier than they usually even leave home. So they were anticipating a big crunch this morning.
MONTAGNE: So, everyone relieved.
GONZALES: Everyone was very relieved.
MONTAGNE: Thank you very much.
GONZALES: Thank you, Renee.
MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Richard Gonzales, talking to us from a BART rail station in Oakland, readying to come to work.
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