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Bay Bridge on track to open after long weekend

  • The old and the new come together at the approach to the tunnel at Yerba Buena Island on the third day of the Bay Bridge closure in Oakland, Calif., Friday, Aug. 30, 2013. When traffic flows across the new stretch of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge for the first time this week, it will do so nearly a quarter-century after a deadly earthquake during the 1989 World Series collapsed two 50-foot sections of the old structure. The 6.9-magnitude Loma Prieta quake hit just as millions tuned in to watch Game 3 of the “Bay Bridge World Series” between the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants, killing 63 people and causing up to $10 billion in damage. The Bay Bridge failure, one of the temblor's most memorable images, prompted one of the costliest public works projects in state history. The $6.4 billion project finally draws to a close after decades of political bickering, engineering challenges and billions in cost overruns. (AP Photo/Bay Area News Group, Laura A. Oda)

SAN FRANCISCO — The new eastern half of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge was on track to open before sunrise Tuesday following a five-day closure of the full span that is the Bay Area's busiest bridge, officials said Sunday.

Hundreds of workers have been working around the clock since the entire bridge was shut down on Wednesday night so the finishing touches could be put on the $6.4 billion project, Caltrans spokesman Andrew Gordon said.

"If we have the ability to open sooner, we surely will, but we don't want people planning their return from the holiday weekend or Tuesday commute based on speculation," Gordon said.

New Bay Bridge Span

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The new part of the bridge runs from just beyond the toll plaza in Oakland to Yerba Buena Island in the middle of San Francisco Bay. Although span should be ready to welcome traffic by 5 a.m. Tuesday, its first official road test will come on Monday afternoon during an invitation-only inauguration ceremony, John Goodwin, a spokesman for the Bay Area Toll Authority, said.

About 20 cars, ranging from vintage models to modern electric vehicles, are expected to take a spin across the span following a gathering for government officials, labor leaders, survivors of the 1989 earthquake that collapsed two 50-foot sections of the old structure and people who were alive when the Bay Bridge first opened in 1936.

The new section of bridge, designed to make the span safe during future earthquakes, has been under construction for more than a decade and follows years of political bickering, engineering challenges and cost overruns.

Less steep than the old eastern span, the self-anchored suspension bridge with a looming, single white tower was designed to endure 150 years and withstand the strongest earthquake estimated by seismologists to occur at the site over a 1,500-year period.

The final steps have involved laying down new pavement, painting traffic lines, demolishing a 1,000-foot stretch of the old bridge and erecting traffic barriers that will direct drivers onto the new section instead of its predecessor, Gordon said.

Crews also are completing a temporary version of a two-mile path that will allow bicycles and pedestrians to share the bridge with cars for the first time starting midday Tuesday. As the existing span is taken down over the next six months, a permanent path will be installed that will carry cyclists and people on foot all the way from Oakland to Yerba Buena Island.

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