As of December, 2007, work is continuing on the eastern span replacement of the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge. The new eastern span is currently scheduled to open to traffic in 2013. The original San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge, built in 1936, became the subject of concern after a section collapsed during the Loma Prieta earthquake on October 17, 1989.
During the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which measured 6.9 on the Moment magnitude scale, a 50-foot (15 m) section of the upper deck of the eastern truss portion of the bridge collapsed onto the deck below, indirectly causing one death at the point of collapse due to misdirection of traffic by the California Highway Patrol. The bridge was closed for a month and one day as construction crews repaired the fallen section. It reopened on November 18 1989.
Given the distance to the epicenter of the Loma Prieta (roughly 70 miles or 113 kilometers south of San Francisco), there was great surprise at the localized destruction around the Bay Area. Analysis points to the likelihood of reflected seismic waves from deep earth crust discontinuities. Failures were mostly located in areas of poor soil conditions due to building over filled-in creeks or on sand and rubble mixes from the 1906 earthquake—all of which were saturated with water and prone to liquefaction. (An exception was the Cypress Viaduct collapse, blamed on poor engineering in certain details, combined with large-structure resonances that had not been considered during design.)
It was clear that the eastern span must be made earthquake resistant. It had been known for over thirty years that a major local earthquake on either of the two local faults (the San Andreas and the lesser-known but far more dangerous Hayward) would destroy the major cantilever span. As with many expensive-to-solve potential problems, there was no political will to act. Estimates made in 1999 placed the probability of a major earthquake in the area within the following 30 years at 70 percent, although recent studies announced in September 2004 by the United States Geological Survey have cast doubt on the (statistical) predictability of large earthquakes based upon the duration of preceding quiet periods, while an even more recent (2008) analysis has increased the probability of a major event on the Hayward Fault.
A design contest was held for a "signature span" (a span with distinctive and dramatic appearance, unique to the site) by the Engineering and Design Advisory Panel (EDAP) of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). A number of innovative proposals were examined until all but four proposals that were submitted by members of EDAP were selected as semi-finalists, and a winner was selected from this group.
This posed a serious conflict of interest, as members of the Engineering and Design Advisory Panel (EDAP) who were selecting the bridge design reviewed proposals by their own firm and rejected all proposals that did not have a representative on the EDAP.
On September 30, 2004, the office of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced that without sufficient funds authorized by the legislature that the bid must be allowed to expire. It was at the time unclear if this would require a redesign to obtain a less expensive span. It might have been possible to quickly redesign the span using a more conventional cable stayed design, for which the construction methods and costs are well understood but the cost of the resultant delay was likely to far exceed any potential savings.
On December 10, 2004, the Governor's office announced that the signature span concept had been scrapped, with the completion of the bridge to be by the construction of the simple viaduct originally proposed. The design, having gone full circle, remained expensive due to the continued high cost of materials. Many argued that there would be little difference in final cost with this lesser proposal since that concept required obtaining new permits, perhaps adding an additional two or three years; furthermore, a viaduct may not even be able to obtain Coast Guard approval since the maximum width of the ship channel would be reduced by almost half. Local reaction to this announcement was intense, with most suggesting that the bridge be built to appear as proposed — either in the steel material as bid or using a reinforced concrete spar of similar appearance but of lower cost
The design controversy continued for over six months. In essence, the Governor believed that the entire state should not share in the costs of building the bridge, as he considered it to be a local (Bay Area) problem. Northern Californians pointed out that when the southern portions of the state experienced disasters, the state supported rebuilding, especially as seen in earthquake rebuilding of freeways and the subsequent seismic retrofit of state freeway structures and bridges. Since the objective of the replacement of the eastern span is to prevent the necessity of complete rebuilding after a large earthquake the Bay Area residents felt justified in their call for state support.
A compromise was announced on 24 June, 2005 by Governor Schwarzenegger. The Governor said that he and State Senate President Pro Tempore Don Perata reached agreement to resurrect plans for the signature span. Cost estimates of the contract deferral expenses and inflation range attributable to the delay have ranged up to four hundred million dollars. Direct costs due to cessation of work (which included some dismantling of temporary structures and its recent restart) were determined in late 2005 to be 85 million dollars.
After being approved by the Legislature, the compromise legislation was signed by the Governor on July 18, 2005. The compromise calls for the state to contribute $630 million to help cover the $3.6 billion in cost overruns, and bridge tolls will be raised to $4 starting in 2007. At the time of the signing, the skyway portion of the bridge was 75 percent complete and the state was beginning to prepare to put the suspension span out for new bids.
The entire project is scheduled to be completed in 2013 at an estimated cost of $6.3 billion. In January 2006, costs for the main structure steelwork were determined to be $400 million in excess of these expectations.
New bids for the main span were opened on March 22, 2006, with two submissions at 1.43 and 1.6 billion USD. Owing to reserves built up with a $3.00 toll during the delay it was initially suggested by authorities that additional tolls exceeding $4.00 would not be required but due to added costs in other portions due to the delay and the cost of restarting the main span foundation work, an eventual toll of $5.00 is now expected. (The toll is only collected in the westbound direction.) The low bid by a joint venture of American Bridge and Fluor Corp. was accepted on April 19th, 2006.
A Caltrans spokesperson quickly responded with a public assertion that it was not possible that defective welds could be hidden from Caltrans inspectors. This assertion was subsequently tested by radiological, ultrasonic and microscopic inspection of some of the welds that were accessible yet alleged to be deficient. On April 21, 2005 news reports indicated that the Federal Highway Administration hired private inspectors to remove 300 pound (136 kg) sections for detailed laboratory analysis.
On May 4, 2005 local radio reported that the Federal Highway Administration said the tests by three independent contractors showed that welds pulled from three 500 pound steel chunks of the bridge "either met or exceeded required specifications.
Since some of the material removed for inspection was specifically identified by the welders' complaints as worthy of inspection, this finding was received as very good news.
This eastern portion of the bridge has an interesting history. It has long been thought by East Bay residents that Oakland got the ugly bridge while San Francisco got the pretty one. The original Caltrans replacement design was for a simple parallel lane viaduct (resembling portions of a freeway which could be found anywhere), and which was considered to be another insult to the East Bay residents and commuters. There was much political bickering over whether the bridge should be built to the north or to the south of the existing bridge, with the "Mayors Brown" (San Francisco's Willie Brown and Oakland's Jerry Brown) on opposite sides of the issue. This argument may have caused up to a two year delay and many hundred millions of dollars in additional costs. While a number of proposals were submitted for a "signature" bridge, and the design chosen is considered by most critics to be acceptable from an aesthetic viewpoint, many questions have been raised by engineering experts as to its survivability under various scenarios—both natural and otherwise. The bridge will be a self-anchored suspension bridge without cable anchorages.
The proposal, however, needs the approval of the City of Oakland and then state authorities to be ratified. The Oakland City Council has yet to consider the resolution and members of the council have so far only expressed disdain for the proposal.