MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
For thousands of commuters in the San Francisco Bay Area, the road home no longer exists. A crucial freeway interchange on the Oakland side of the Bay Bridge was destroyed early Sunday after a gasoline-tanker truck exploded. Even though a huge section of the freeway is now just a massive concrete and melted steel, the Bay Area's morning commute was easier than expected.
As NPR's Richard Gonzales reports, the real test may come this evening as those commuters are heading back home.
RICHARD GONZALES: The good news is that there was no one else on the road in the wee hours Sunday morning when James Mosqueda's tanker truck ran out of control and exploded. Eight thousand gallons of burning gasoline poured out on the southbound lanes of Interstate 880. Amazingly, Mosqueda escaped with only second-degree burns.
The bad news is that the heat from the fiery crash melted the freeway overpass above taking out Interstate 580 headed east in one of the most heavily used stretches in the San Francisco Bay Area.
This morning, transit officials and local radio stations anticipated the worst traffic tie-ups since the 1989 Noma Prieta earthquake.
Unidentified Man: It's 3:05 here at KZBS, Bay Area residents are facing what could be a difficult if not nightmarish commute today following…
GONZALES: But the commute was far less troublesome than expected. Sure, there were delays especially due to rubberneckers coming in and out of San Francisco who slowed down to see the twisted steel and crushed concrete suspended in the air. Fortunately, transit officials and commuters had more than 24 hours to plan alternative routes and ways to get to work. More busses and ferries were pressed into service and all public transit was free for the day. At the Powell Street train station in downtown San Francisco, all the BART riders we spoke with reported a smooth commute.
MS. JENNIFER KELLER(ph) (Public Commuter, Bay Area): My name is Jennifer Keller and I commute from Alameda.
GONZALES: How was it this morning?
Ms. KELLER: Actually, it wasn't bad at all. I thought it was going to be packed. I thought it was going to be really crowded but it didn't seemed anymore crowded than usual. Maybe they have more cars or something. I don't know.
GONZALES: In fact, BART officials added enough cars to carry a half-million people on the system - about 50 percent more than usual. BART rider Eric Pines(ph).
Mr. ERIC PINES (Public Commuter, Bay Area): The commute was fine. No problem. But more people than usual that's all.
GONZALES: Did you detect any change in the attitude or mood of the commuters?
Mr. PINES: Pretty much everybody was pleasant, contented(ph) and we're having no problems.
GONZALES: But if mornings are easier than expected, local officials are still worried about the afternoons. The two downed freeways didn't directly impact flow into San Francisco but commuters coming out of the city will find their journey east more complicated.
Here's Sergeant Les Bishop(ph) of the California Highway Patrol.
Sergeant LES BISHOP (California Highway Patrol): The roadways that are out of commissioned are afternoon-commute directions and all we could do is ask people to - number one, use public transit. If you can't use public transit try to use the detours and if you do have to come through here give yourself extra time and be ready to - ready for your travel to take longer.
GONZALES: Transit officials are also concerned that when the novelty of today's commute limits wears off people will abandon public transit for their cars. Lauren Wonder is a spokeswoman for Caltrans.
Ms. LAUREN WONDER (Spokeswoman, Caltrans): Toward the end of the week, we'll see what it is a free transit is continuing if it does then you'll get more people onto public transit if - perhaps even if it doesn't hopefully people will get use to taking public transit. The whole concept is to get more people into less vehicles so that we could move people more smoothly through these restricted connectors.
GONZALES: Transit officials say the clean-up could be completed in two days but they won't speculate how long repairs will take. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared an emergency, which streamlines contracting and environmental regulations. And San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said the Bay Area is getting a wake-up call to the potential impact of another earthquake or terrorist attack.
Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco.
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