Bridge opens, but can it handle the traffic to come? | September 6, 2013 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

Opinion - September 6, 2013

Bridge opens, but can it handle the traffic to come?

Many of us will take a trip to San Francisco this weekend if only to see the new Bay Bridge before traveling on to Fisherman's Wharf, the Exploratorium, Ocean Avenue beach, Union Square or some of the many other attractions that make the city by the Bay so appealing. As you cross the architecturally-stunning Eastern Span, take a look to the side at the old span still standing and think about the $240 million in taxpayer money it will now cost to demolish it. That's in addition to the whopping $6.4 billion for the Eastern Span you're riding on which, by the way, was $4 billion over the original estimate. Time will tell if the projected $240 million demolition cost is on the mark. Let's keep that in mind as Caltrans and Gov. Jerry Brown move on now to new projects, including the $25-billion Delta twin water tunnels and the $68 billion high-speed train.

Also keep in mind that the real traffic crunch is yet to come. We're not talking about Monday morning but much farther out to the year 2040 when transit planners are saying this new multi-billion-dollar bridge will reach capacity. Sarah Dennis-Phillips from the San Francisco Planning Department spoke at the recent San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association forum. She said that new jobs and housing growth in San Francisco and the East Bay by the year 2040 will translate into more people commuting in and out of San Francisco. Despite the hopes of urban planners, the fact is that all new workers will not be living in the city and "We have to find a way to get them here," she said.

Consider just Treasure Island. At least 8,000 new homes and hundreds of thousands of square feet of retail space are expected to be built there in the coming decades. Tens of thousands more will be moving to the East Bay, trying to reach San Francisco or other points in the upper Peninsula by car, public transit, bicycle, ferry or otherwise. The capacity worries she has for the Bay Bridge include these other transit services, too.

Anthony Bruzzone from Bay Area-based planning firm Arup agrees. He said there are about 75,000 trips made into San Francisco on the Bay Bridge per day, with about half of those trips made during the morning commute. The increased number of people during peak commute hours in the morning and evening may lead to the Bay Bridge being unable to handle the heavier loads by 2035. The capacity of the bridge, and other transbay options such as BART, is expected to exceed its limit, especially since there hasn't been added capacity to the "Bay corridor" since BART opened in 1974.

The workforce in San Francisco currently consists of 40% who live in the city, 40% who come in from the East Bay, about 12% from the Peninsula and the remaining 8% from Marin County and the North Bay. With 190,000 new jobs expected in San Francisco by the year 2040, which is a 30% increase from the current total, and if that geographic breakdown continues into the coming decades, the capacity to carry people across the Bay will be strained to gridlock.

Bruzzone said a redesign concept to consider on the Bay Bridge in the coming years is a "contraflow configuration" which would allow certain lanes of traffic on the bridge to switch directions based on need and crowding. That works on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago and in other cities. And, given the $6.4 billion we just spent on the new Eastern Span, it would probably be much cheaper and could be done in less time than it has taken to build a new bridge that was damaged in the 1989 earthquake.


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