Labor Day Opening of New Bay Bridge East Span Celebrated at Oakland Ceremony
Transportation agency officials, elected leaders, and workers celebrated the opening of the new East Span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge on Labor Day in Oakland.
In mid-August, Caltrans announced that the bridge would open after Labor Day as previously scheduled, despite ongoing work to install a steel saddle to seismically strengthen the E2 pier just east of the span’s tower where broken bolts were found in March. Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials stressed at several public hearings that the new span of the Bay Bridge is safer than the existing one. The Bay Bridge was closed for four days while crews completed construction work at the Oakland touchdown and Yerba Buena Island tunnel in order to transition traffic from the old span to the new one
At the event to commemorate the opening of the new Eastern Span, Metropolitan Transportation Commission executive director Steve Heminger said, “The new East Span is a public safety project that was completed before the arrival of the next seismic event. It is the culmination of 24 years of effort to bring seismic safety to all of the bridges in the Bay Area.” He noted that several of the elected officials on hand for the ceremony played important roles in moving the project forward, including East Bay State Senator Loni Hancock, who authored legislation to fund the retrofit of Bay Area Bridges.
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said the new bridge was “a symbol of what government can do. Government is much maligned, but government can and does build things.” Congresswoman Barbara Lee praised the workers who planned, designed and built the bridge and said it was a lifeline that had a positive impact on the local and global economy. She said that she had “eagerly awaited this day along with all of you!” Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner pointed out that, “We don’t know when that next quake will happen. Now we can drive across that bridge with the assurance that we are not risking our lives.”
Mike Flowers, chief executive officer of lead contractor American Bridge Company, said workers from all over the world contributed to the construction of the bridge. He thanked contractors Flatiron, C.C. Meyers, MCM, Silverado, Granite Construction and all the subcontractors on the project. “It’s fitting that we celebrate on a day set aside to honor the contributions of labor to the good of all,” he said.
State Senator Mark Leno of San Francisco noted that, “not a single life was lost in the construction of this 21st Century bridge.” He said many safety improvements had been made in construction since the building of the original Bay Bridge, when 25 workers were killed on the job between 1933 and 1936.
Leno introduced State Building and Construction Trades Council of California President Robbie Hunter as a strong advocate for apprenticeship programs, prevailing wages, women in the trades, and project labor agreements. Hunter noted the he was a member of the Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers union and thanked the workers from all the trades who worked in all kinds of weather conditions day after day. He said the Bay Bridge project came at a time of high unemployment for the construction trades and had kept union construction workers employed during hard times.
Metropolitan Transportation Commission Chairwoman Mayor Amy Worth noted the large number of female construction workers who helped build the bridge and introduced a video highlighting women working on the project. “Construction is not an old boys’ club anymore,” she said. She thanked the women workers who were “forging pathways for our daughters and granddaughters.” Worth commented that, “This bridge was made out of more than steel and concrete. It was made with pride.” She said some people would look at the bridge and see a road, some would see art, and others would see science. “This project bridged road, art and science and made them soar,” she said.
Lt. Governor and former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said completion of the project provided an opportunity to think about the future. “Let’s invest in sustainable values and get back into the future business,” he said. “We need to move past the debates on solvency and focus on greatness. That’s our job, and this is part of it.”
After the program at the Bridge Yard—a converted train repair facility—a chain-cutting ceremony was held at the Toll Plaza, followed by a procession of classic cars across the new bridge. Lt. Governor Newsom wielded a cutting torch and burned through a length of chain held up by elected officials and a group of union ironworkers. The event was a nod to the chain cutting ceremony held in 1936 when then-Gov. Frank Merriam cut the chain to open the original Bay Bridge.
Two days after the opening of the new span, as tens of thousands of vehicles commuted over the new bridge, construction crews were busy working on the steel saddle retrofit below the roadway.