Where's That Confounded Bridge?
November 29, 2004 11:12 PM   Subscribe

Now there's a time but I say none like now: After the eastern cantilever span of the Oakland-Bay Bridge collapsed in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, CalTrans engineers recommended replacing it with a cable-stayed bridge. The estimated cost was roughly 1 billion and would be completed in 2003--that is, until the Mayors Brown got involved. Then-SF-Mayor Willie Brown objected to the new design, saying the abutment at Yerba Buena island would interfere with his planned condominium development. Brown coaxed the Navy--who owned the land on which the foundation would be built--into preventing CalTrans from performing soil-engineering tests, saying the new bridge wasn't safe, making references to other bridge disasters, and interviewing engineers all over the Bay Area until he finally found one who agreed with him. Jerry Brown--former governor of California and current mayor of Oakland--voiced his opposition, calling the design a "bland viaduct" and proposing an international competition to design "a world-class bridge." When CalTrans told Brown his objections were a year late, he dug up an old Frank Lloyd Wright design and asked CalTrans, "Say, can we put trains on it, too?" The delays and design changes have increased the cost to over five billion, and its completion date is anyone's guess. According to Governor Schwartzenegger, this is the Bay Area's problem, not California's. (Fine then! Can we have our water back?) Fifteen years, two audits, and one angry architect later, the questions remain: how and by whom will this new bridge be funded, what will it look like, and will it be finished when the The Big One hits?
posted by fandango_matt (18 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Dang. I'm gonna need a bridge to get across that FPP.

Excellently constructed first post, though.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:25 PM on November 29, 2004

Wow. FPP or PHD?

The Alex Fraser Bridge in Vancouver is cable-stayed and designed for an 8.0 earthquake (although on January 18th, 1700 there was an earthquake estimated at 9.0). It seems there is nothing intrinsically wrong with cable-staying versus any other design type in reference to seismic issues. If the big one is a BIG one then all bets are off.
posted by Rumple at 11:41 PM on November 29, 2004

With the $3.00 bridge toll that I am paying to cross it just so I can get to school (SFSU), I sure-as-shit hope the current bridge won't collapse before the new one is completed.

There are whisperings, okay, more like a roaring drone, that the toll will be boosted to $4 or $5 to cover the cost overruns.
posted by astern at 12:04 AM on November 30, 2004

Good work, fandango! But more inside can be your friend.

I haven't been following this controversy well the last year or so and it seems it's really blown up in everyone's faces. I thought the MacDonald design was brilliant and believed it was well under construction already. Your post does accidentally imply that the Brown/Wright design suggestion is in some way to blame for the delay, though, when from what I can tell the bidding process is about the suspension design. Pity; this could have been a beautiful icon, and now it looks like it might end up being a sad counterpart to the waterfront facilities.

tbm: to be fair, the Swedish bridge would barely equal one segment of the Bay Bridge, which is two levels regardless. Its 4.5 mile length (8 miles with approaches) is more comparable to projects such as the Great Belt Bridge in Denmark. And the US is certainly building bridges, with spectacular new ones in S. Carolina and crossing the Mississippi. This is more about California budget and politics, as well as lots of money simultaneously going to retrofit other bridges in the region for earthquakes, using post-Loma Prieta understanding.
posted by dhartung at 12:33 AM on November 30, 2004

(Fine then! Can we have our water back?)

Can we have Hetch Hetchy back?
posted by homunculus at 1:16 AM on November 30, 2004

dhartung, i was being fair. my comparison was between kramfors kommun and the san francisco bay area.

one builds world class bridges commensurate with their relative status in the world, and the other doesn't.
posted by three blind mice at 2:35 AM on November 30, 2004

they need to stop using the damm bay area bridge tolls to support the rest of the crap public transportation (ferries and buses) and just use the bridge tolls to pay for said bridges, and nothing more. the tolls far more than cover the costs to build and operate the damm things.

either that or turn it into a for-profit, and sell shares in the fucking thing. merchandising, cut of the profits, your initials on a bolt. who cares. this shit can be done -easily- and very nicely. it's just the fucking bay area beauracracy and loser special interests that can't get their act together to pull it off.

arnold should tell sf and oakland to fuck off, and impose whatever he wants. then it'll get done. the existing process has proven those involved can't hack building a simple bridge.
posted by jimjam at 2:50 AM on November 30, 2004

Zeppelin Rules!
posted by Scoo at 4:18 AM on November 30, 2004

What about a float bridge? (mp3)
posted by lyam at 5:48 AM on November 30, 2004

No matter what they do, it will always be the second best bridge in town.

As far as cable-stayed bridges, I don't think they count as fancy and European anymore. Boston has one.
posted by smackfu at 6:52 AM on November 30, 2004

Boston just built the Zakim Bridge (aka The Bill Buckner Bridge). It's cable-stayed. I have no idea how much it cost but it's part of the Big Dig so assume a few billion or so.
posted by TimeFactor at 6:53 AM on November 30, 2004

If the Zakim bridge has any sort of (alleged) problems that the rest of the big dig has...the cables will snap and send the bridge hurtling west to crash unceremoniously down outside of Springfield.
posted by tpl1212 at 7:14 AM on November 30, 2004

The Crunge sticks out of the Zep pantheon of songs like a sore thumb. It's like a daisy in a sea of lilacs, or something.
posted by euphorb at 9:43 AM on November 30, 2004

Kick ass post, fandango_matt.
posted by shoepal at 10:08 AM on November 30, 2004

I have no idea how much it cost but it's part of the Big Dig so assume a few billion or so.

Bzzzt! Sorry, that's incorrect. The bridge's total price tag came to $105 million. There was an international competition to design the bridge, with the two main parameters being: 1. Make it cheap, 2. Make it pretty (in that order).

Thing is, it's a very short bridge, and Boston doesn't get a lot of earthquakes, so it's not really a good comparison. But it is very pretty.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:39 PM on November 30, 2004

Nice post, fandango_matt. Very interesting stuff. Thanks!

This reminds me of that huge bridge they built (or are still building??) in Hong Kong, to connect the city to their airport on the sea. Except that actually had a deadline.
posted by BradNelson at 2:57 PM on November 30, 2004

i ride over the old bridge every day and they are DEFINITLY pretty far into construction of the new one next door. The piers are already a few stories tall, so unless they're willing to throw away a few hundred million dollars then the basic design of the bridge is limited to what can be built between the existing piers (and those are going to be limited to a certain capacity anyway. By my guess they're going to end up with a 2 span cable stay bridge which should look quite nice (because anything looks nice compared to the old cantilever bridge...though it's still pretty damn nice for a cantilever (much better then the richmond bridge).

Having just moved here from boston i'd say they're DEFINITLY in for another boondoggle that compares with the big dig. Hell, even the big dig allot of the costs were unplanned overruns and simple inflation (the big dig was first estimated in the 80's, and for some reason the costs increase over time (of course it doesn't help that they had to develop allot of methods along the way)). However, if anyone really wants to complain about the tolls they should go to the east coast and cross the tapanzee (what is it, $13 ?). Of course, for me, i'll just keep on doing the casual carpool
posted by NGnerd at 9:04 PM on November 30, 2004

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