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CA’s Bay Bridge East Span to Live On

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

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Millions of pounds of steel were used in the construction of the original San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, and as sections of the East Span are slowly demolished, many observers are wondering what is happening with the material after its removal.

According to Caltrans, art and reuse are at the heart of giving the old structure a new lease on life.

Caltrans is working closely with several contractors and the Oakland Museum of California to ensure every piece of steel from the bridge is recycled or utilized for various types of art projects throughout the state of California.

In response to significant public interest from Bay Area artists and creative communities, the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) established its Bay Bridge Steel Program to help make the steel available for repurposing and reuse.

The program is targeted at artists, architects, landscape architects, planners, and other design professionals working in the public realm.

Creative Reuse

Striving to preserve elements of the original 1936 Bay Bridge east span, as well as its legacy as a major landmark and historic icon, the program is reclaiming approximately 450 tons of steel for use in civic and public art projects in the state.

Although a “generous portion,” OMCA Public Art Administrator Leslie Pritchett notes that that is only 0.01 percent of the steel salvaged from the structure.

Pritchett indicates that the material will be sandblasted to remove all surface material so the end-use artists and designers understand what they’re dealing with.

Still, the application materials caution that, while material will be salvaged, repaired and cleaned to an established industry standard by the demolition contractor, applicants should be aware that it is not possible to remove or remediate all of the lead paint or other potential hazards.

Applicants ultimately assume responsibility for the steel and its appropriate use.

The Bay Bridge Steel Program seeks to preserve elements of the original 1936 East Span of the Bay Bridge, as well as its legacy as a major landmark and historic icon, by making salvaged steel available for incorporation into public and civic projects.

Five artists, designers and design firms were awarded steel from the first round of Bay Bridge Steel project applications at the end of 2015.

Bay Area firm Hyphae Design Lab plans to integrate very large segments from the bridge into an intermodal facility it is designing in conjunction with the Oakland Army Base redevelopment. Specifically, the firm’s designs call for using truss sections on the exterior of the facility as architectural and landscape elements that "leverage the inherent elegance of the original 504’ truss spans."

This includes a "bridge-tower" that frames the touchdown point for pedestrians and bicyclists entering the site; an observation deck that frames the entry of visitors from Burma Road and Maritime Street; and a series of individual pieces that along the bermed pathway which connects the Bay Trail through the site.

The other approved applications from the first round are:

  • Artist Sean Paul Lorentz of Petaluma plans to build a cantilevered sculpture from bridge trusses that will "emphasize the incredible strength” of the bridge steel.  
  • Eve Soltes, director of the Harrison House Music, Arts & Ecology Center in Joshua Tree applied for steel to create an entry gate for the venerated arts center. Well-known Bay Area artist Mark Bulwinkle designed the gate to be fashioned from one of the old Bay Bridge’s top horizontal braces.
  • Bay Area artist Tom Loughlin has designed a sound and light sculpture fabricated from an old Bay Bridge warning light and its platform, as well as a massive structural top chord element which he envisions incorporating into the artwork as an opportunity for seating.
  • San Francisco-based landscape architects SURFACEDESIGN INC. have proposed an overlook and viewing platform for a park in San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood created from a series of bridge trusses and other elements.

Comprehensive Recycling

Caltrans said it is working closely with the project's contractors (California Engineering Contractors Inc./Silverado Contractors Inc. JV) and the Oakland Museum of California to ensure every piece of steel from the bridge is recycled or utilized for the purposes of various types of art projects throughout the state of California.

Once the truss section is lowered and barged to a dock at the Port of Oakland, it takes a crew of 25 about two weeks to fully dismantle the structure, Caltrans says.

Specific elements for the Bay Bridge Steel program will be sourced from the ongoing demolition of the truss sections known as the 504s and 288s. The second of five 504s was brought down April 8.

Recycling the material and moving it back into the stream for reuse ultimately reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills and energy used, the transportation department notes.

According to Robert Ikenberry, safety director for California Engineering Contractors, essentially all of the steel on the bridge gets recycled—from the main structure to the steel embedded in the concrete deck. What isn’t set aside for the creative reuse program is sent directly to local recyclers, he said.

East Span Trusses

The steel that will be made available through the OMCA program will be drawn from the second phase of bridge demolition, which began during the summer of 2015.

Phase I was completed the end of 2015, with the demolition of the cantilever section and S-curve to Yerba Buena Island. Phase II involves removal of the first five “504s” (referencing the lengths of the trusses in feet) and then removal of 14 “288s” that extend to the Oakland shore.

Specific elements for the Bay Bridge Steel program will be sourced from the 504s and 288s.

The second of five 504-foot long trusses stretching from Pier E4 to Pier E9, the equivalent of approximately one half of a mile, was successfully removed in early April. The first was brought down in February. Each of these trusses weighs approximately 2,400 tons.


Tagged categories: Artists; Bridges; Demolition; Lead; Recycled building materials; Steel; Surface preparation

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