STEVE INSKEEP, host:
A lot of people in the San Francisco Bay area will have a really, really bad commute today. We told you the same thing yesterday. We can tell you the same thing tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that. A huge section of the crucial freeway interchange near the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge turned to rubble last weekend when a gasoline tanker truck blew up. And now, as NPR's Elaine Korry reports, nobody wants to guess how long the repairs might take.
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ELAINE KORRY: A demolition crew spent the day removing mangled portions of the buckled freeway ramp connecting two vital transit corridors. Bijan Sartipi heads the district office of Caltrans, the state transportation agency.
Mr. BIJAN SARTIPI (District 4 Director, Caltrans): We're going to continue our assessment from the foundation to the column to the structure itself as to how much of the structure we can use and which part of it actually has to be replaced.
KORRY: The ramp collapsed when a gasoline tanker truck crashed and exploded. An inferno melted the steel beams which held up the connector. Already the question on everyone's mind is how long: How many weeks or months before this key interchange is restored? But transportation officials say it's too early to predict.
Mr. RANDY RENTSCHLER (Manager of Legislation and Public Affairs, Metropolitan Transportation Commission): They don't want to rush and get it wrong. They want to take their time and get it right.
KORRY: Randy Rentschler, with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, understands the urgency for solid answers. But he says the demolition has to proceed carefully. The repair work is delicate and all the more challenging because the collapse was so unexpected.
Mr. RENTSCHLER: This isn't about knowing how to do it. This is about making sure you can get the right materials on site in a timely basis.
KORRY: In fact, one of the biggest challenges will be finding enough steel, some of it custom made, to start the project. Fortunately, Rentschler says about $10 billion worth of road construction is going on in the Bay Area. Officials may be able to commandeer supplies from lower priority Caltrain jobs. Each passing day matters because the economic impact could be huge.
John Grubb is with the Bay Area Council, a nonprofit group of the region's biggest employers. For a decade, this group has been devising economic models to test the effects of various catastrophes, including something similar to the current one.
Mr. JOHN GRUBB (Spokesman, Bay Area Council): As a matter of fact, there was a detailed study that was done on the Bay Bridge, what would happen if it was taken out by an earthquake. And so, from that we're able to extrapolate that the economic impact is about $6 million a day in loss to our regional GDP, and that adds up to about $180 million a month.
KORRY: That includes loss of productivity from employees who can't get to work, loss of retail sales, loss of conventions and other tourism dollars, and the list goes on. So far, the area's notoriously difficult commute hasn't suffered too much, but that's mostly because thousands of workers stayed home on Monday. Grubb says that won't last forever.
Mr. GRUBB: We expect in the next few days that traffic is going to start getting worse and that the nightmare that was predicted will come true.
KORRY: Extra bus lines, trains, ferries and car pools will be available for the foreseeable future. And the good news is that as bad as this crash site is, there are detours around it. People will be able to drive where they need to go, it just may take them a lot longer to get there.
Elaine Korry, NPR News, San Francisco.
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