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New Bay Bridge Trolls for Next Steps

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

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After 24 years, millions of manhours, and billions of dollars expended to get new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge open today, just one question remained: What about the troll?

The question lingered through the weekend, as crews of up to 400 worked 24/7 on the finishing touches for the massive project.

The new Bay Bridge was scheduled to open at 5 a.m. PT today (Sept. 3), giving travelers an entirely new bridge experience. Traffic will move from the upper and lower decks of the original bridge to the parallel decks of the new east span.

The side-by-side configuration will open up panoramic views of the San Francisco Bay and the East Bay hills, according to the Bay Bridge Public Information Office.

Final Preparations

The old bridge has been closed to traffic since Wednesday (Aug. 28). (The last car to cross it was a 1930 Model A Ford, Fox40 reported.)

Since then, crews have worked to replace light fixtures, clean and paint the cable, repair finger joints, and connect the ends of the bridge to the existing Toll Plaza and Yerba Buena Island.

New Bay Bridge, Courtesy of John Bors, Chemco Systems

With the new Bay Bridge open to traffic, crews will turn their attention to a three-year, piece-by-piece demolition of the old span, which is covered in lead paint.

All in all, it seemed like things were finally falling into place for the Bay Bridge project, a generation-long endeavor punctuated by a generous share of delays, finger-pointing and, at the 11th hour, broken bolts.

All of that was more or less resolved, but the troll's fate still hangs in the balance.

For Whom the Troll Dwells

The tiny troll has kept watch on the bridge for 24 years, appearing mysteriously on the east span's upper deck shortly after repairs were completed on the section that failed during the devastating 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

Despite his size, the little troll carries considerable big juice with bridge safety officials.

His significance was documented just last month in "For Whom the Troll Dwells: A Legendary Case for Supplemental Safety Measures on the New San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge East Span," a white paper by the project management team for the Troll—uh, Toll—Bridge Seismic Retrofit Program.

Bay Bridge Troll

The bridge troll appeared without Caltrans' approval or permission, but now bridge officials are fighting to make sure that it gets a new home.

"While no causal relationship can be established between the presence of the Bay Bridge troll and the absence of any earthquake-related interruptions to the Bay Bridge's service during the past 24 years, the correlation cannot be denied," the paper says.

Designed (as it was later revealed) by local blacksmith Bill Roan and installed by a team of ironworkers, the fabricated steel troll stands 18 inches tall, has large horns, and carries a spud wrench, with which he appears to be tightening a Bay Bridge bolt.

He appeared on the bridge in secret, without Caltrans' approval, and is visible only from the water. A 1990 San Francisco Chronicle article brought him to public attention.

His presence has been met with gratitude, credited "with keeping mayhem at bay for the past 24 years," the project management team wrote.

Seeking a New Home

The Bay Bridge Public Information Office has promised that the troll will receive a new home when the old east span is demolished, but the details aren't yet clear.

"I can tell you that there have been a lot of discussions about this at the highest levels, but so far no decision has been made," Randy Rentschler, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, told The San Francisco Chronicle.

Bay Bridge collapsed span

Part of the original Bay Bridge's eastern span collapsed during the 6.9 magnitude Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989. The new bridge was to open today.

The project team recommends that since the troll has done such a good job protecting the old span, that part of the bridge should be preserved, troll and all—"both in his honor and the honor of those who worked to restore the bridge to safety after the upper deck collapsed."

Furthermore, the team says another troll statue should be created—and even installed on the sly—to guard the new east span.

Even without the iron likeness, the bridge team claims that troll-like activity is already underway on the new span.

"A string of four-toed claw-prints have been discovered on the westbound road-deck," it says. "And, fittingly, it appears that these tracks can be seen only at night."

Out with the Old

Long before the new span was completed, Caltrans was deciding what to do about the old one.

The 80-year-old steel structure is chock full of lead paint, preventing it from being imploded into the bay below. Instead, Caltrans will take it down one piece at a time—a process that is expected to take three years.

"We are going to dismantle the bridge essentially opposite of the way they put it together," Mike Whiteside, a Caltrans bridge engineer, told ABC7News.

The demolition crew is now studying blueprints from the original bridge to guide the tear-down. Metropolitan Transportation Commission spokesman John Goodwin said the demolition would cost $233.7 million, which was budgeted as part of the overall $6.4 billion cost of the replacement, according to the San Francisco Appeal.

Several pieces from the old bridge will eventually make their way into local museums.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Department of Transportation (DOT); Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)

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