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The new Bay Bridge

(Update added September 5, 10:24 PM PDT: The scheduled reopening of the Bay Bridge may be delayed as the result of the discovery of a cracked I-beam near the high point of the cantilever section of the bridge. The cracked I-beam is away from the location of the work described below, and was discovered during an inspection of the bridge today. The cracked I-beam must be repaired before the bridge can reopen, and work has begun on the repair tonight.) (Update added September 6, 2009: CNN also covered the crack in the I-beam.)

One of the “exciting” bits of Bay Area news this Labor Day weekend is the closure of the James “Sunny Jim” Rolph Bridge (AKA the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, AKA the Bay Bridge). The excitement arises from the fact that the bridge normally carries around 270,000 vehicles/day, and the 20-lane toll plaza at the eastern end is one of the widest streets in the world.

The rest of the excitement results from the fact that this weekend, a 288-foot, 3300-ton piece of the bridge is being MOVED to create room for its eventual replacement. After a section of the bridge collapsed during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, engineers found that the entire bridge needed seismic upgrades. The “San Francisco side” of the Bay Bridge (the current suspension bridge) needed only seismic retrofits, but the eastern portion will be completely replaced. While the replacement piece is constructed, an “S-curve” bypass needs to be put in place to allow traffic flow. The bypass will be in place until 2013.

I wrote about the Bay Bridge in February of this year and referenced a Discovery Channel episode of “Extreme Engineering: Oakland Bay Bridge” (the DVD was rated 5 stars out of 5). The bridge, and the story of its construction, are both amazing. My earlier blog entry lists a number of facts about the current Bay Bridge, many of which I did not know before doing the research.

The Bay Bridge has been closed to traffic (including access to and from Yerba Buena Island) from 8 PM last Thursday until 5 AM on Tuesday, September 8. To maximize the opportunity provided by the closure of the bridge, the bridge is being cleaned and painted and used for the training of law enforcement personnel in exercises that would be impossible during normal operation.

The CNET News article referenced above includes a series of photos and the story of the work being conducted this weekend, including details about “Lefty” the “Left Coast Lifter,” which is currently the largest floating crane on the West Coast and which  has 2 full miles of cabling, can lift 1700 tons with ease, cost around $50 million, and is comprised of a barge made in Oregon and a crane made in Shanghai, China.

You can see time-lapse video of this weekend’s activities, as well as “fly-over” movies of how the bridge will look, on the Bay Bridge information official site.

-Bill at Cheshire Cat Photo™

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