Bay Bridge Closed For Repairs

A cable snapped on the Bay Bridge's upper deck in San Francisco during Tuesday's rush-hour commute, prompting authorities to close the bridge for repairs and an inspection. It is the second time in recent weeks that the bridge has been shut because of structural defects.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel in Washington.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block in California.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, there is a nightmare commute. It started yesterday when the Bay Bridge had to be shut down. During the evening rush, one of the bridge's support cables snapped, a large steel rod and brace came crashing down onto traffic. It's the second time since Labor Day that the bridge has been closed because of structural problems.

And as NPR's Richard Gonzales reports, it is unclear when the bridge will reopen.

RICHARD GONZALES: The metal that broke and fell on the bridge last night was part of an emergency repair performed over the Labor Day weekend after inspectors found a cracked I-bar beam during a seismic check. But the repair job failed. Three vehicles were damaged including a truck driven by Jose Villalobo(ph). The cable slammed into his windshield and Villalobo told San Francisco TV station KPIX he thought he was going to die.

Mr. JOSE VILLALOBO: And I was covering my head like this because I feel, you know, this is my last day. So - but I'm lucky I'm here.

GONZALES: More than 200,000 vehicles cross the Bay Bridge getting in and out of San Francisco every day. So when the bridge closes like today, that puts stress on the rapid transit system. Thousands of people who would otherwise drive or bus into the city were moving through BART stations, like this one on Oakland's MacArthur Boulevard.

Newsvendor Howard Jennings Jr.(ph) was doing a brisk business selling newspapers with the headline: Bridge Fix Fails.

Mr. HOWARD JENNINGS, JR. (Newspaper Vendor): Busy, busy, busy, you know, for me, I hope for a couple of days. Can't drive (unintelligible) they got no choice.

GONZALES: Jennings said he didn't hear many people grumbling about having to take the train today. But one passenger thought twice about going to work.

Mr. REE QUAI(ph): I just wanted to call in sick, and I almost did.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GONZALES: Ree Quai(ph) said he's concerned the bridge failure is a bad sign.

Mr. QUAI: If (unintelligible) passing. I'm an architect, so, you know, the stress happening at the one point and it could cause, you know, catastrophic failure, then what's going to happen? Really scary.

GONZALES: State transportation officials say the bridge broke due to fatigue in a steel rod that was supposed to support the cracked I-bar beam. They say wind and vibrations from traffic probably caused the failure. But a civil engineering professor at UC Berkeley is warning that the bridge's problems may be deeper than most people realize. Abolhassan Astaneh told KQED's Forum show that the initial crack in the I-bar beam was a warning sign.

Professor ABOLHASSAN ASTANEH (Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, UC Berkeley): And the repair that was done, in my opinion, is very unusual, to put it mildly. And it was done like for a temporary construction site that you try to get something out and you just put some bars and rods and saddles to get stuff. I don't think all the rules and guidelines for bridge repair were followed here, otherwise this piece would not have fallen.

GONZALES: State transportation officials dispute that. They say they will work around the clock to repair the bridge.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News, Oakland.

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