February 2014: San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge

San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge

As a life-long San Francisco Bay Area resident, I was motivated to write this letter when I read the two articles published in the February 2014 issue regarding the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. I found the articles topical and provocative. However, if we are to improve rush hour traffic through the San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley corridor by considering the addition of a second identically configured parallel bridge adjacent to the existing one, I would have liked to have seen some of the more obvious questions/issues addressed:

  • Can the existing freeways at either end of the proposed second and existing bridges handle the greater number of vehicles on the two bridges so that the overall traffic situation would be improved?
  • What would be the cost of the new surface roadways, connector ramps and access points, and perhaps new freeways required to join to the new bridge? Where would these roadways be located and what would be the environmental impact (traffic, business, noise, views, etc.) on the cities of San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley?
  • Assuming that the original 1930s bridge design was ideal, what would be the engineering and cost rationale for building a new bridge with re-used, archaic 1930s members, rather than just using new materials with an improved double deck configuration? Is it necessary to replicate the clear span of the Eastern span cantilever section?
  • Would it be practical and cost-effective to dismantle the existing bridge in such a manner as not to damage the individual elements, so that they could be stored and reconstructed later?
  • Since the original Eastern span is widely considered unattractive and a long-standing insult to the residents of the East Bay, would it be possible to get public support for its reconstruction?

I agree that the new Eastern span has not made the vehicular traffic situation any better; it actually seems worse now, if that is possible, and it is likely to get even worse in the future. But since the new Eastern span has just opened after 25 years of design and construction and at a huge cost to the taxpayers, not to mention the question of whether it was an appropriate or efficient engineering design, I must admit that adding another bridge in essentially the same place did not cross my mind. I have not really recovered from the last project. Besides, the concept of adding another cross-bay bridge south of San Francisco to the East Bay, also known as the “Southern Crossing,” has been studied in various alignments and locations since the 1940s, but consistently rejected.

As an alternative to more bridges and roadways, increasing the capacity and service area of the BART rail system deserves serious consideration as a means of reducing the demand on the existing Bay Bridge. Maybe a Southern Crossing with shared vehicular and BART rail traffic could be part of a comprehensive traffic improvement plan. Some people like to ride ferries, but I think that the time for that technology, as a serious contributor to traffic capacity, is in the past, although it might play a small part in the future.

Before we consider a second Bay Bridge, we really need an in-depth study to flush out the best alternatives and the true costs.

John Dal Pino, S.E.

P.S. Saving the old Eastern span is really a moot point, since demolition is already underway.


Response to John Dal Pino’s “Letter to the Editor”

These are all good points. We share the concerns raised by Mr. Dal Pino, and assume that various transportation agencies share them, too

The combined factors of high costs and lengthy construction time devoted to replacing the east span have likely exhausted any public enthusiasm for an additional bridge. Even so, substantial increases in public transportation budgets will not provide adequate relief where it is most needed. A second underwater tube for BART, for instance, is unlikely to address the true nature of the congestion. The only viable solution is a second bridge.

We believe the challenges associated with a second crossing can be surmounted. While space does not allow us to expand on our ideas for why a parallel bridge has practical and economic advantages, we also readily acknowledge the potential for other viable bridge options. Ultimately, we believe that a multi-stage design competition would get the best ideas on the table.

Regardless of aesthetic preferences related to structural systems (steel truss vs. concrete viaduct), the fundamental question remains: “How long do we delay plans for an additional crossing, and at what ultimate cost?” We feel engineering professionals are better suited to tackling this question pro-actively, rather than waiting for it to make the agenda of elected officials.

Ronald F. Middlebrook, S.E. and Roumen V. Mladjov, S.E.

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