Top transportation officials voted today to open the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge by Sept. 3, the day after Labor Day.
They recommended a five-day closure to complete construction of the span from the night of Aug. 28 to the morning of Sept. 3.
Members of the state Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee are setting the new date in the wake of a report by the Federal Highway Administration that says making a temporary fix to bolt problems on the new span will make it safe for traffic and it should be put in place as quickly as possible.
The $6.4 billion span is aimed at making the Bay Bridge seismically safe in light of the damage it sustained in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and transportation officials had planned for many years to open it on Labor Day.
But that date was thrown into doubt in March after 32 of the 96 bolts that secure earthquake shock absorbers known as shear keys to the deck of the bridge failed when they were tightened.
The shear keys are designed to prevent swaying during an earthquake.
Transportation officials and construction crews have been working hard to fix the problem and examine all the bolts for the new span, but Toll Bridge Program Committee members announced July 8 that the bridge opening would have to be delayed because they didn’t expect the retrofit of the failed bolts to be completed until Dec. 10.
However, two days later, on July 10, a panel of bridge engineering experts told the committee that a short-fix could be implemented quickly and the new span possibly could open on Labor Day after all.
They said the new span should be opened as soon as possible because they have little confidence that the existing span could withstand even a moderate earthquake.
The three members of the committee are Steve Heminger, the executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Malcolm Dougherty, the director of Caltrans, and Andre Boutros, the executive director of the California Transportation Commission.
The long-term solution to fixing the broken bolts is to cover them with an exterior saddle and cable system that is encased in concrete.
The short-term fix involves inserting large steel plates, known as shims, into each of four bearings, enhancing their ability to safely distribute energy during an earthquake.
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