‘Significant Crack’ Found in Major US Bridge

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bridge[Video below.] The 73-year-old bridge that carries commuters between San Francisco and the heavily populated cities to its east could remain closed for a fifth day as crews race to repair a crack in a steel link that holds up part of the span, a state transportation official said yesterday.

A team of workers received the blueprint and materials they needed to repair the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, which carries about 260,000 vehicles a day. But fixing the problem by tomorrow, when the workweek begins and the bridge had been set to reopen, poses “quite a challenge,” said CalTrans spokesman Bart Ney. “People should be braced for another day of it being closed,” Ney said.

The bridge was shut down Thursday night so a section of the eastern span could be cut out and replaced with a new double-deck section as part of a long-planned seismic upgrade. California transportation workers used the closure as an opportunity to inspect the bridge from top to bottom, and they discovered the crack on Shabbos.

The damaged link – part of a network of eight similar pieces – is about 2 inches thick and was cracked halfway through. Caltrans construction manager Mike Forner said the fissure probably wasn’t a danger to motorists because the other seven links assumed some of the cracked link’s load, but the damage is serious enough to justify a delay.

“The bridge will be safer when we open it than when we closed it,” Ney said.

The last full inspection of the bridge was in 2007, and the crack likely appeared since then, Ney said. He said he did not believe it was related to the construction project.

Friday was the first time the bridge was closed on a workday since part of it collapsed in a devastating 1989 earthquake. It had been scheduled to reopen by 5 a.m. Tuesday.

Other Bay Area bridges and public transportation systems were able to accommodate extra riders Friday, but since that was the beginning of a long holiday weekend, Tuesday’s rush hours could prove more troublesome. Ney encouraged commuters to stay tuned for updates and to make alternative travel plans.

“We can’t say whether the bridge will be ready to reopen on Tuesday morning,” Ney said. “It’s difficult to forecast.”

Ney said every effort would be made to reopen the bridge to traffic tomorrow. A steel contractor in Arizona worked overnight to produce the welds needed to make the repairs and rushed the materials to the Bay Area on a chartered jet, he said.

For a video report of the crack in the bridge, click below:

[media id=150 width=400 height=300]

{AOL News/Noam Amdurski-Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. I was born and grew up in the East Bay Cities of Berkeley and Oakland, so I went accross this bridge countless times. B’Ezras HaShem, I would liked to give Matzav readers the full story about it.

    1.) Historical Background: In 1848, gold was discovered in the foothills of California, promting the California Gold Rush. One of the key centers of this massive immigration was the town of San Francisco. Located on the Pacific Coast at the tip of a penninsula that encloses a large bay, it was an ideal port for the numerous ships coming from all over the world. It thus rapidly grew from a tiny village into one of the major cities of the world.

    Already during the Gold Rush, when SF and the nearby towns were rapidly growing, there was realized a need to have a transportation link from SF to the cities of Oakland and its suburbs on the east side of the bay. As the bay is quite wide and in many spots very deep though, building a bridge was deemed far beyond the technology of that time. Eventually, fleets of small boats transported people across the bay, with over fourty-six million people using them in 1928.

    By the late 1920’s though, it was realized that a connecting roadway was urgently needed, so prepreations for a bridge were made.

    2.) Building the Bridge: On July 9, 1933, construction on an SF-Oakland link finally began. In that part of the bay at about midway between SF and Oakland, there is a small hill of land called “Yerba Buena Island,” which is owned by the US military. With government permission to put a road through the it, the task of bridging the bay was made much easier. For now, instead of the very difficult job of building one very long bridge, there would be a less difficult job of building two moderate size bridges: one from SF to the island and one from the island to Oakland.

    At about mid-way between the SF shore and the island, the engineers constructed their own mini-island: a large steel and concrete pier. Then from a point near the SF coast to the pier, they built one suspension bridge, and from the pier to the island, they built a second suspension bridge. The whole structure though, looks like one long suspension bridge with four towers. The structure was built with two roadway levels.

    The photograph at http://www.dot.ca.gov/hq/esc/tollbridge/SFOBB/Sfobbfacts.html, was taken on the west side of the island looking west toward SF. It shows the towers of the double suspension bridge with the downtown skyline. This view forms the most famous SF pictures.

    As the Yerba Buena Island is a small hill, it was decided to have the roadway go through a tunnel in the middle of the hill. To have space for a two deck freeway roadway would require the boring of quite a large hole — 76 feet wide by 58 feet high — that is four stories high! The Guinness book of World Records thus states that this tunnel has the largest diameter in the world.

    From the east side of the island to Oakland, the engineers constructed a number of truss and cantilever bridges and joined them together to form one long cantilever-truss bridge. At that time, this span was the longest bridge of this kind in the world. Like the west side part, this part was also built with two roadway levels.

    (As I noted above, there are countless photographs of the west side suspension span; however, there are very few pictures of the east side cantilever span. I do not know why, for this east side cantilever bridge is extremely beautiful!!)

    At 12:30 p.m. on November 12, 1936, the completed bridge was formally opened in a grand ceremony with former President Herbert Hoover and the Govenor of California. The total length of the structure from the beginning of one approach to the end of the other is 8.4 miles. At that time and for many years afterwards, it was the longest bridge structure in the world. At that time, it was also the most expensive bridge in the world, costing over $77,200,000. (In more recent decades though, many other much longer and more expensive bridges have been built in different parts of the world.)

    Very tragically though, it also had a terribly high cost in human life, as twenty four people died in its construction accidents.

    At the same time that this bridge was being built to join SF with Oakland, the world famous Golden Gate Bridge was being built to span the channel north of SF and was opened in May, 1937.

    3.) Use of the Bridge: At first, the SF-Oak bridge was part of the US highway system. It formed the western tip of two cross country US highways, which merged at that point: US 40 (which begins in Baltimore, Maryland) and US 50 (which begins in Washington, D.C.). Latter, the new Interstate Highway System replaced much of the old US highway system. So the SF-Oak bridge now forms the western tip of the major cross country Interstate highway: I 80 (which begins with the George Washington Bridge in New York City).

    At first, the upper roadway level was exclusively for automobiles, and on the lower level, half was for trucks and buses and half was for a commuter train. In 1958, the train tracks were removed, giving the whole lower level for trucks and buses. In 1963, both levels were opened to all moter vehicles, with the upper level for westbound into the city traffic and the lower level for eastbound out of the city traffic.

    From its opening to the present, the bridge was heavily used. In the first year alone, estimates are that nine million vehicles crossed it. By 1950, the yearly estimates had risen to twenty-nine million vehicles. Today, the estimates are of two hundred and eighty thousand vehicles EACH DAY! Understandably, the traffic jams of business day rush hours are very severe and a terrible nightmare for city commuters.

    Already in 1945, official statements were made of the need for a second SF-Oak bridge; over the years, several proposals were made, but none of them materialized. See: http://www.cahighways.org/maps-sf-fwy.html

    On June 19, 1964, construction began on a subway system called the “Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART).” On September 16, 1974, the subway part joining downtown Oakland with downtown SF was opened. So finally, there was a second SF-Oak transportation link.

    4.) Current Problems: On October 17, 1989, a major 6.9 earthquake severely hit the bay area causing tragic deaths, horrific injuries, and extensive property damage. Boruch HaShem though, all of the area’s bridges remained standing, and, ALMOST fully intact. The bridge damage that did occurr was that one side of one slab of the upper level of the east side of the SF-Oak bridge broke from the roadway; this unjoined side of the slab thus fell down onto the lower lever of the bridge, killing one person. Again, this was the only bridge damage that happened, but it was certainly terrible enough. It took the construction crews over one month to repair this rip in the bridge. In other words, for over one month, the key link of the bay area’s already over saturated road system — was closed!!

    Boruch HaShem though, the BART under the bay SF-Oak subway tunnel was not injured in the earthquake and was up and running within hours after the quake. So at least there was the subway line to help with the heavy Oak-SF commute.

    This tragic incident made people realize the crucial need for items that can survive an earthquake. Stricter codes were enacted for new building, and, as much as possible, old structures were retrofited to make them more resilient.

    5.) Redoing the SF-Oakland Bridge: Heavy seismic retrofit work was done on the west suspension side of the bridge. For the east cantilever side though, it was determined that it would be best to make a whole new bridge. So on January 29, 2002, construction began on a new eastern span, with a projected completion time in 2013.

    The new eastern bridge will be radically different from the current one. Instead of a cantilever bridge, the new one will be mostly an open skyway with a new type of state of the art suspension bridge called a “Self-Anchored Suspension (SAS) Bridge.” And it will be the longest SAS bridge in the world.

    Furthermore, instead of a double deck two level structure, the new one will be formed of two roadways — almost like two bridges — placed side by side, with one roadway for westbound traffic and one roadway for eastbound traffic. The eastbound roadway will also have a wide lane for pedestrians and bicycles, plus a number of observation platforms. As the structure reaches the island, the eastbound roadway will swerve down under the westbound roadway to there form a two deck structure to fit with the double deck formation of the island tunnel and the western bridge.

    6.) Recent Bridge Closure: Boruch HaShem, the bulk of this double roadway is now built and it is time to finish it and close it in with the tunnel on the island. However, the structure of the current bridge is, of course, what now goes into the island tunnel. There is still a lot of work to do on the new bridge, which will take a good few years. So for these few more years, we will still need to use the current old bridge. So to be able to continue using the old bridge when the new bridge needs to come in to the same place, we will need to “re-route” the old bridge to make room for the new one.

    The engineers did this by constructing near the old bridge a movable huge elevated double deck curved roadway. Then, they cut a large section out of the part of the old bridge that reaches the island. Then, into the space of this large gap that they had cut, they pushed in the new movable roadway that they had made and joined it to the edges of the gap. So now, as the old bridge approaches the island, it goes over to the left in a big curve and then curves back to enter the island tunnel. So at that point the old bridge is now “moved over” to the left, making room there for the new bridge to come in.

    During the time that this cutting a piece out of the bridge was being done, it was obviously impossible to travel over it and it thus had to be closed. The construction people wanted this closing of the bridge to have as little impact on everyone as possible; therefore, they scheduled this project for the long Labor Day holiday weekend. They set the closing to start already on Thursday evening and go through until 5:00 AM on Tuesday morning. With this almost five days worth of time, they hoped that with their intensively working around the clock, they would be able to do this complex job of re-routing the bridge and re-open it in time for the Tuesday morning rush hour.

    For several weeks, the big story of all the local media news broadcasts was about the upcoming bridge closure: people should be prepared for the bridge closure; people should be prepared to use alternate routes; people should try to stay home; “For more information about the Bay Bridge closure, see our website at . . . ”

    When the “big day” of the closing finally came, Boruch HaShem, the re-route job went very quickly and very smoothly and was finished by Sunday afternoon. Then, the workers made a routine check of the bridge. In their inspection, they discovered a large crack in one of the beams. Now obviously, this one crack there does not mean that the whole bridge is going to now suddenly crumble and fall down. It is still more than solid enough to safely drive over it. At the same time though, we certainly cannot leave the crack there and let it get bigger and, Chas V’Shalom, cause more pieces to break apart. The time to fix it is NOW. Especially that at this time, they anyway have up there their whole crew of workers and all their equipment, it is as good as a time as any to correct the problem.

    The problem though, is that the holiday weekend that they had allocated for the closing is almost over, and now they are starting a whole new job! So the construction people put out an announcement that because of the new developments, the bridge will have to be closed longer; maybe — they cannot promise — but MAYBE it will be open at 5:00 AM on WEDNESDAY!

    Of course, this is going to be a calamity! Labor day weekend was a pretty good time for shutting a major bridge. The professional and financial worlds are closed, and many of those employees take off the Friday before too. So there is no business commute then that would be hurt by the unavailability of the key commute bridge. Furthermore, Labor Day near the end of the summer, is a time when many people are anyway away on their yearly big vacation trips.

    But now AFTER Labor Day on Tuesday morning — Summer is over! Vacation is over! Play time is over! It is time to get back to school and get back to work!!

    So everyone was bracing for what was promising to be a real monster of a Tuesday commute jam up.

    So we can just barely begin to imagine the extremely pleasant surprise and relief everyone felt when, at 6:30 AM on Tuesday morning — THE BRIDGE WAS OPEN!!

    Yep, it’s all done! The crack repair is all done! The construction crews, of course, worked very quickly, and specially needed parts were flown in by specially chartered flights. So by Tuesday morning everything was finished, and just ninety minutes after the originally planned reopen time, automobiles were again running on the bridge. Traffic that day went very smoothly; the new news talk was about how the drivers would have to get used to the new big curve in the bridge!



    Before we close, we need to recount another piece of the Chasdei HaShem in this story that was not yet mentioned. About two months before the bridge issue, there was a severely serious crises in the BART subway system: the unions for the transit workers were angry about the contracts; if not resolved, there would be a strike. For several weeks, this was the big news story; it was expected that there WOULD be a strike. Then, on a Sunday evening, less than six hours before the deadline, came the announcement that a “tenative” agreement had been reached — there would be no strike!!

    So BART continued on. Then, when the bridge closure took place, Boruch HaShem, BART was able to go all out in helping the situation with giving special around the clock full train service.


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