Closure of Bay Bridge could mean traffic chaos

San Jose Mercury NewsAugust 27, 2013 


Work is coming to a close on the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge, on left, which is set to open at 5 a.m. Sept. 3. The existing span, on right, suffered damage in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and will be taken down over the next few years.

KARL MONDON — San Jose Mercury News

The Bay Bridge has been closed three times over Labor Day weekend since 2006, and it's never caused real traffic nightmares.

This year? Think again.

The shutdown of the bridge, part of a $6.4 billion project to replace the eastern span, begins today at 8 p.m. and could last until 5 a.m. Tuesday. That's two days longer than in past years — and includes two weekdays, Thursday and Friday, when thousands of drivers may be heading to work or preparing to get out of town for the last vacation weekend of summer.

The AAA predicts a 6 percent increase in the number of cars on state roads this weekend from a year ago. That's more than 3.9 million Californians traveling 50 miles or more from their homes.

"Taking the Bay Bridge out of the equation is mind-boggling," said longtime Bay Area traffic reporter Joe McConnell. "It could be chaos those two afternoons."

San Francisco officials recommend adding one to two hours to driving trips to the city while the bridge is closed.

That's what Chasity Leon's husband will do. Leon said in a comment on The Bee's Facebook page that her husband, who works at the San Francisco airport, will leave their Modesto home extra early Thursday — 2:30 or 3 a.m. rather than 4.

The big attraction will be the America's Cup races on San Francisco Bay. A likely headache will be the Critical Mass biking event Friday that begins at 5:30 p.m. at Justin Herman Plaza.

On the other side of the bay, the Cal football team kicks off the season Saturday night and the playoff-chasing Oakland Athletics are home Friday through Monday.

Still insisting on going into or out of San Francisco? Think BART, BART, BART if you don't mind standing. Trains will run all night, and extra cars will be added.

But many others still will drive, and the options are not good ones. Traffic on the San Mateo Bridge has been more congested for months and Highway 101 along the Peninsula is a constant challenge. Interstate 880 is not called the Nasty Nimitz for no reason.

Some motorists may take the Golden Gate and Richmond-San Rafael bridges. While the conversion to all-electronic tolling has sped up the Golden Gate Bridge drive, road work has slowed the commute on Interstate 580 east of the Richmond Bridge.

More ferries will crisscross the bay, and AC Transit will reroute buses that normally cross the bridge to BART stations in the East Bay.

Local man taking the ferry

Joshua Morriston plans to head to the city by boat. In a comment on The Bee's Facebook page, Morriston wrote, "Unfortunately, I have a cardiology appointment at UCSF on Tuesday and cannot reschedule. I must travel into the city and most likely will take a ferry from Alameda to the Ferry Plaza Building on the Embarcadero. That seems like the best option for me."

And Jose Tamay is canceling a planned family trip to Alcatraz on Labor Day. "Maybe next time. ... It's gonna be full, the BART train, and a busy day to San Francisco."

The last time the bridge closed was in the middle of the recession in 2009, and this year could be much worse, said Jamie Holter of the transportation tracking agency INRIX. In 2009, the 280,000-plus everyday users found other ways to move between the East Bay and San Francisco, and the closings ended sooner than scheduled.

Doom-and-gloom predictions were not met, thankfully.

But this year the experts are nervous.

Caltrans has posted warnings of the bridge closing on electronic freeway signs as far south as Southern California and as far north as the Oregon border.

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