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The San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge

What is known locally as the “Bay Bridge” and legally as (and I’ve NEVER heard this) The James “Sunny Jim” Rolph Bridge, crosses San Francisco Bay and links the cities of San Francisco and Oakland. The bridge is part of Interstate 80 and is a multi-structure toll bridge that carries about 270,000 vehicles/day. The bridge was designed by Charles H. Purcell and construction began in 1933. The Bay Bridge opened on November 12, 1936, six months before the Golden Gate Bridge. Governor Frank Merriam opened the bridge by cutting a golden chain with an oxyacetylene torch. A description from the San Francisco Chronicle at the time is given in the Wikipedia article about the bridge. The total cost of the bridge was $77 million. Prior to the bridge opening, it was blessed by Cardinal Secretary of State Eugene Cardinal Pacelli, who later became Pope Pius XII.

Although the story of the Bay Bridge is quite lengthy, the Wikipedia article, the Department of Transportation “Facts at a Glance” page, and a film, “Extreme Engineering: Oakland Bay Bridge” DVD (5 stars out of 5!) from the Discovery Channel all do a good-to-great job of discussing aspects of the bridge.

Here are a few facts about the bridge:

  • The Bay Bridge Toll Plaza is 20 lanes wide, one of the widest roads in the world.
  • The 1.78-mile (2.86 km) western span, from Yerba Buena Island to San Francisco, is actually TWO suspension bridges with a central anchorage. At the time of their construction, they were the second (to the George Washington Bridge) and third longest suspension bridges in the world.
  • The 10,176-foot (3,102-m) eastern span is a combination of a double cantilever, five long-span through trusses, and a truss causeway. The cantilever portion is the most massive yet constructed. Much of the eastern span is founded upon treated wood pilings. It was not practical to reach bedrock through the deep mud, but the lower levels of mud are quite firm.
  • The Yerba Buena Tunnel is 76 feet (23 m) wide, 58 feet (18 m) high, and 1700 feet (520 m) long. It is the largest diameter bore tunnel in the world.
  • A CALTRANS bicycle shuttle operates both ways during peak commute hours, according to Wikipedia.
  • The concept of the bridge was discussed as early as Gold Rush days.
  • The passage through Yerba Buena Island required U.S. Congressional approval, since the island was a military base at the time.
  • The offramps to both Treasure Island and Yerba Buena Island are unusual because they are on the left-hand side of the road in both the eastbound and westbound directions.
  • In 1989, the magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta Earthquake caused a 50-foot (15-m) section of the eastern truss portion of the upper deck of the bridge to collapse, indirectly causing one death.
  • The western span has undergone seismic retrofitting. The replacement for the eastern span of the bridge is currently under construction.
  • The Oakland Bay Bridge (1, 2, 3)  has appeared in a number of films, including “The Graduate,” “The Towering Inferno,” Basic Instinct,” and “The Dead Pool.”

-Bill at Cheshire Cat Photo™

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