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Assemblyman Proposes CA Bridge Replacement

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

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An assemblyman is calling for a new, better replacement for California’s Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, a structure that has been plagued with problems dating back to crumbling concrete falling onto a car in February, among other problems. A new bridge would reportedly cost more than $8 billion, however.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, noted that it would be good if the current bridge lasted another 10 to 20 years, but “we should be planning for what the next span will look like.”

The Richmond-San Rafael Bridge runs across the San Francisco Bay.

Richmond-San Rafael Bridge Issues

On the morning of Feb. 7, 2019, chunks of concrete fell from the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge—a metal cantilever rivet-connected warren through truss—causing a several-hour closure and emergency repairs put in place until a more permanent fix could be implemented.

At the time, the falling concrete was the latest issue for the 5.5-mile cantilever span, which originally opened in 1956. Although a deck rehabilitation project was completed in 2006, holes continued to open, sustaining a reputation of littered gashes and potholes.

On Feb. 8, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) installed a 6-foot metal plate as a temporary fix. Though Caltrans was unsure about what caused the concrete to become loose at the time, the agency did note that contractors had been working on the upper deck to construct a pedestrian-and-bike lane.

In the beginning of April, a call for funding was made by Levine, to replace the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, where a second concrete incident had taken place.

According to the California Highway Patrol, over a span of two months, the bridge was closed for repair twice after pieces of concrete fell from the upper to lower span.

Inspectors determined that while conducting maintenance work—which involved swapping out 61 aging steel joints—concrete apparently expanded and loosened from the demolition jostling, resulting in the falling pieces onto the barrier system below.

By the end of April, a $300,000 study was announced to assess the bridge for longevity, and was planned to be used as part of a larger move to evaluate the Bay Area’s state-owned bridges. At the same time, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission reported that 10 of the 31 deck joints had been replaced on the bridge.

Months later, Caltrans posted on its website that the final concrete pour for the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge joint repair project had been completed on the morning of July 16, in addition to all plates having been removed from the upper deck. In mid-August, Caltrans announced that all joint replacement work on the upper deck of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge had been completed.

Call for a New Bridge

Levine went on to add that despite the significant investment in the current bridge from the state and regional transportation agencies, the structure could not withstand a major disaster. Though there have been enough seismic retrofits to keep the bridge standing in the aftermath of an earthquake, it would no longer be functional after the event. There are also currently no plans for what a new bridge would look like, either.

Recently, Caltrans started a deck study in order to help evaluate if it’s in fact time for a new bridge. Currently, the cost for a new structure is estimated to be around $8.2 billion.

Wear and tear sustained from traffic, combined with the salt air of the area, results in joint expansion and shrinkage. Concrete has also fallen loose. To help remediate these issues, Caltrans and the regional Metropolitan Transportation Commission plan to spend another $129 million on repairs sometime next year.

The question remains over whether a new bridge would be a good investment, given the area’s other transportation needs. Currently, Levine has not as yet proposed a funding plan. He has also not yet voiced his opinion on the Faster Bay Area sales tax measure, which would help give a leg up to projects like what’s being proposed. Voting is currently slated to occur in November.

Levine maintains that planning should begin as soon as possible, as transportation projects are known for taking a long time. According to the Chronicle, after the Loma Prieta earthquake, it took 25 years to rebuild the Bay Bridge’s east span.

“Knowing that there is going to be no functioning bridge after a disaster is enough reason for me to want a plan on the shelf, ready to go,” Levine said. “As far as what it looks like—I’ll leave that up to the many creative dreamers in the Bay Area.”


Tagged categories: Bridges; Government; Infrastructure; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Rehabilitation/Repair

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