ALEX CHADWICK, host:
It's hard to imagine a freeway overpass actually melting down onto another freeway, but that did happen yesterday when a gas tanker exploded just east of the Bay Bridge that links Oakland and San Francisco. One person was hurt - the truck driver. He had second-degree burns. But 280,000 people cross that bridge every weekday, and traffic is going to be detoured around the scene of the collapse for months.
(Soundbite of TV newscast)
Unidentified Woman: We have some closures in the Maze, if you haven't heard. Coming off the lower deck in the Bay Bridge, you can either go into Berkley or you're going to get on the Nimitz, but you are not going to get on 580 and coming through…
CHADWICK: Earlier, I spoke with NPR's Richard Gonzales. He was near he Powell Street BART station in San Francisco.
RICHARD GONZALES: Well, I was, you know, quite surprised. It was busy, but people reported that everything was going very smoothly.
CHADWICK: Well, set the scene for us. Why is this freeway interchange so crucial for Bay Area commuters?
GONZALES: The accident happened in what was known as the MacArthur Maze, and it's the complex web of interstate freeways on the eastern shore of the San Francisco Bay. You know, if you're in San Francisco and you need to go east to Oakland, we go through the MacArthur Maze. If you're in Oakland or Berkley and you have to go south to San Jose or west to San Francisco, you go through the MacArthur Maze. It's a key economic artery. It handles about 80,000 motorists on these two interstates that were damaged. And it's basically the main way people, goods and services get around the Bay Area.
CHADWICK: So you're saying 80,000 people use these two highways that are affected every day. Where are those 80,000 people going today?
GONZALES: Well, they're all going to work - or unless they're staying at home and telecommuting. But what we're finding is that people are using mass transit, as they've been encouraged to do. All transit in the Bay Area is free today, and people that I spoke to say that this has been relatively few problems, and they expected far worse.
CHADWICK: This must bring back memories of that Loma Prieta earthquake back in 1989. That caused part of the East Bay freeway to actually collapse. How does this compare?
GONZALES: Well, you know, the Loma Prieta earthquake was different, because in that case, the earth moved over a large region of this area and people died. In this situation, the damage is very localized, and there are no fatalities, although I think people may have heard already that the driver of the gas tanker escaped with some minor injury, but no one else was hurt.
CHADWICK: So what's the prospect of getting this roadway fixed, Richard? I mean, is it really going to be months?
GONZALES: Transit officials are saying they can clear up the debris in maybe a couple days, but it will take months to repair these two freeways.
CHADWICK: Well, NPR's Richard Gonzales reporting for us from San Francisco. Richard, thank you.
GONZALES: Thank you.
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