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Bridge closure affects those who stay local too

on October 28, 2009

The emergency San Francisco Bay Bridge closure is affecting more than just the estimated 280,000 drivers who cross the bridge every day.

In Richmond, detoured drivers and passengers crowded the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, BART trains and surface streets, causing traffic headaches for both the regular and rerouted commuters.

CalTrans officials decided to close the Bay Bridge Tuesday night after two high-tension steel tie rods broke free and crashed down onto the roadway, leaving morning commuters scrambling to find alternate routes. As of press time, the bridge remained closed indefinitely.

Tanya Thompson lives only four minutes from her job in downtown Richmond. And while it took a bit longer to drive down Richmond Parkway—which she says is usually her “mini-freeway”—she said traffic looked like a nightmare for those with longer commutes.

“From the time I hit the Parkway, people were just looking to make sure no cars were coming and running red lights,” she said, suggesting that people were driving erratically to beat each other to the bridge entrance.

Thompson speculated that bridge-bound drivers took Richmond Parkway trying to avoid heavy traffic on I-580.

WestCAT bus driver Pam Perry said the Bay Bridge closure is affecting surface-street traffic in Richmond. (Photo by Leah Bartos)

WestCAT bus driver Pam Perry said the Bay Bridge closure is affecting surface-street traffic in Richmond. (Photo by Leah Bartos)

Surface streets even farther from the bridge were affected as well. Pinole Valley-bound WestCAT bus driver Pam Perry was waiting to pick up riders around 3 p.m. at the Richmond Parkway Transit Center’s Park-and-Ride lot, located off I-80’s Fitzgerald Drive/Richmond Parkway exit.

Perry, whose shift started at 1 p.m., was anticipating a busy evening on her route as well as those of her fellow bus drivers. But she felt up to the task.

“You’ve just got to go with the flow,” Perry said.

At the Hilltop Park-and-Ride one exit south, California Highway Patrolman S. Porter watched over a nearly empty parking lot. He said many drivers found alternatives to taking the bus from the Park-and-Ride lot in order to avoid the roads altogether.

“It’s usually packed,” Officer Porter said. “Days like today defeat the purpose of Park-and-Ride.”

Despite commuters who opted out of driving, many still crossed the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.

“It was a little bit hairy this morning,” said Toll Sgt. Cardenas.

The Bay Area Toll Authority has kept the two FasTrak lanes and all five cash lanes—up from the usual four—continuously open since Tuesday night. All lanes will remain open until the Bay Bridge repairs are complete. Sgt. Cardenas said tollbooth employees are extending their shifts from four hours to eight, and some Bay Bridge employees are working at the Richmond Bridge.

“We’re trained to respond to emergencies,” Sgt. Cardenas said. “We have a protocol.”

Although most commuters are anxious for the Bay Bridge to reopen, Tanya Thompson is skeptical about the bridge’s safety—especially when large pieces fall off. She said she won’t be taking the bridge anytime soon.

“I feel safer walking the streets of Richmond,” she said, laughing.

For more news on the bridge closure, visit Oakland North.

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