New Bay Bridge span opens early, but also a decade late

Sep 3, 2013

The new eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge opened last night, about five hours ahead of schedule. That is, if you don't count the extra decade it took to get the bridge built.

California Department of Transportation director Malcolm Dougherty announced the early opening to cheers at the official bridge opening ceremony. 

The new bridge comes 24 years after part of the original collapsed in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Engineers determined the old span needed to be replaced back in the 1990s, but political wrangling and construction issues delayed the project. In the end, the new span became the biggest infrastructure project in California’s history at $5 billion over budget for a total of $6.4 billion.

Speakers at the opening ceremony—who ranged from transportation officials to politicians to contractors—focused on the seismic safety of the new span, its beauty, and the workers who built it. Oakland mayor Jean Quan said the bridge was a good fit for the city, which deserved an iconic structure, but acknowledged the project’s struggles.

“Like most things in Oakland, it has not always been easy,” she said. But “aren’t the results beautiful?

While they beat the next big earthquake—and therefore meeting the goal of the project—California Transportation Committee chair James Ghielmetti said the state can’t afford go through the same thing again.

“California must do a better job on all our public works projects going forward,” he said, referring to the delays and cost overruns.

At least one speaker brought up the California High-Speed Rail, a project estimated to be over six times the cost of the Bay Bridge. It’s already been hit with political bickeringdelays, and cost overruns, and the project has barely started.

And the Bay Bridge project isn’t over yet—the snapped seismic safety bolts still need their permanent fix, and it will be another three years before the old bridge is fully demolished. But getting drivers onto the new—and impressive—span is a long-overdue milestone.

Check out a video of  a drive across the Bay Bridge on opening night.