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Cracked bolts and all, new Bay Bridge opening Labor Day

Isabel Angell

The new eastern span of the Bay Bridge will open the day after Labor Day. After postponing the opening indefinitely in July, the bridge’s oversight committee voted to restore the original date at a meeting on Thursday. The cracked bolts in the new bridge are apparently better than the totally unsafe old bridge, which wouldn't survive a minor earthquake.

The Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee – which is made up of state and local transportation officials – made the decision to delay the Bay Bridge opening after bolts crucial to the seismic structure of the bridge cracked. A permanent fix to the bolts will be ready in mid-December. But experts say the old bridge is extremely unsafe, and won’t hold through even a moderate earthquake. So officials voted to adopt a temporary fix to get traffic onto the newer, safer bridge as soon as possible – which turns out to be Labor Day.

The old bridge closes at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, August 29 and the new span will open to traffic by 5 a.m. on Tuesday, September 3.

At the Thursday meeting, three different independent engineering firms, including engineers from the Federal Highway Administration, gave their blessing to the temporary fix, which involves securing the area around the broken bolts with steel plates. One reviewer called the fix “simple, yet very effective.”

At a press conference after the meeting, committee chair and Metropolitan Transportation Commission executive director Steve Heminger admitted they are rushing to open the new span. But it’s not to save face, it’s to keep the public safe. He said safety concerns about the new bridge are unfounded.

“The existing bridge is the one folks ought to be worried about, and that's the one they shouldn't be trusting,” he said. “We've got two structures out there, side by side, and there is no contest between which one is safer.”

Heminger even said he would be willing to bet his life on it.

“I want to be on that bridge when the earthquake hits, because it's going to be a hell of a lot safer than most of the other stuff around, including half of our houses.”

Heminger also said the bridge -- which is years late and five billion dollars over budget-- is an example of how not to tackle massive infrastructure projects. Too much time spent reviewing and political bickering slowed construction, causing the massive delays and cost overruns. Heminger warned the same thing is now happening to California’s biggest infrastructure project: the high-speed rail.