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Bay Bridge could reopen later today as final inspections near completion

Caltrans moving heavy equipment off bridge as final checks 'looking good'

The Bay Bridge is expected to reopen later today in time for the evening commute traffic, Caltrans announced at 5:30 a.m. this morning. The bridge will remain closed for this morning's commute, however.

At a news conference, California Department of Transportation spokesman Bart Ney said most of the heavy construction and repair equipment has been moved off the bridge and final inspections are under way.

"The final visual inspections have started," Ney said. "Of course, if something comes up we'll have to go back and do more work, but so far it's looking good for opening the bridge sometime later this morning or early this afternoon."

In preparation for this morning's rush hour, BART announced that it will resume running longer trains and will open up more than 200 temporary parking spots at two locations in the East Bay.

Ney said crews performed stress tests Saturday, and that "engineers didn't get what they were looking for."

The tests showed that there was still metal-on-metal fatigue between pieces of the new repair structure, which is replacing repairs of a cracked eyebar discovered over Labor Day weekend.

The metal-on-metal fatigue, apparently caused by high winds on the bridge, caused the steel crossbar and two steel rods that were part of the original repairs to fall onto the bridge Tuesday evening.

The crossbeam and rods crashed on the cantilever section of the bridge near Yerba Buena Island and damaged three vehicles, but no one was seriously hurt.

Crews took the night off late Saturday after working 24 hours a day since the bridge closed, Ney said.

"They've been hard at it for four days," Ney said. "We thought it was a good time to take a rest."

He said they resumed work at 7 a.m. Sunday and did not have a break planned for last night.

Before the bridge can be opened, outside experts from the Federal Highway Administration and other groups will examine the repaired section to make sure it's ready to handle traffic again, he said.

Motorists can get real-time travel information at the Web site 511.org or by calling 511.

In the meantime, BART spokesman Linton Johnson said BART is opening up more than 200 temporary parking spots at two locations in the East Bay today and running longer trains to accommodate commuters affected by the ongoing closure of the Bay Bridge.

The longer trains will run during the peak commute hours this morning, Johnson said.

Along with its regular 46,000 parking spots, the agency is opening 50 temporary spots near the Castro Valley station and 180 near the West Oakland station. Shuttles will take customers to the BART stations, Johnson said.

The Castro Valley temporary parking lot is located at 20630 John Drive, while the West Oakland lot is located at the corner of Linden and Seventh streets.

If the bridge remains closed after Monday's morning commute, BART will run extra trains beyond the normal afternoon schedule and run longer trains in the evening to provide additional transbay service for people going between San Francisco and the East Bay.

Although BART ran overnight trains on Friday and Saturday nights, the agency did not run overnight service last night because it had to perform numerous state-mandated safety inspections and do maintenance work on the trains so they were ready for the morning commute.

The agency has set record ridership numbers since the Bay Bridge was closed Tuesday evening for emergency repairs after two rods and a crossbar fell onto the upper deck of the eastern span of the bridge.

On Wednesday, BART broke a year-old record when its trains carried 437,200 riders. A new record was set the next day, Thursday, when 442,000 people rode the trains.

On Friday, BART had 437,700 riders, the new second-highest total in the agency's 37-year history. BART had its fifth-busiest Saturday ever when it carried 227,100 riders.

More information is available at www.bart.gov.

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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