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Old Bay Bridge demolition proceeding on schedule, say officials

on September 26, 2014

On a sunny morning 200 feet above the tossing waters of San Francisco Bay, Caltrans officials took reporters on a tour of the condemned East Span of the old Bay Bridge and gave a progress report.

Crews began to dismantle the 78-year-old Bay Bridge last year, in the reverse order of how it was built in the 1930s: from west to east, and top to bottom.

“It’s harder to demolish the bridge than to build it,” Caltrans Public Information Branch Chief Robert Haus said. The span is being taken apart piece by piece by workmen using handheld cutting torches. The separated pieces are lifted away by heavy cranes. To protect the environment, no explosives are being used.

Caltrans spokesperson Leah Robinson-Leach said the methodical demolition continues on the Temporary Bypass Structure, which is known as the ‘S’ Curve. This temporary bridge was installed to allow the new bridge’s approach to the Yerba Buena Island tunnel to be completed. Now over half of this temporary structure has been removed.

The entire demolition will be completed in 2018 and a new bike path will be put up in 2015, according to Robinson-Leach.

Although Caltrans says the overall demolition is on schedule, there have been delays due to a complex of different issues, including birds. The old Bay Bridge is home to wildlife such as cormorants, seagulls, ravens, and peregrine falcons. Despite costly efforts by Caltrans to lure the birds to move to the shiny new Bay Bridge, the new structure seems to have no attraction to the fowl.

“We invested about $140,000 putting decoys onto the new bridge to try to attract cormorants to move their nests,” Robinson-Leach said. “Unfortunately those efforts have not been successful.”

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act and National Environmental Policy Act prohibit Caltrans from disturbing the nesting process of wildlife. Robinson-Leach said another $1.65 million would be invested in order to pay for measures to prevent birds from nesting on the old bridge.

“Right now, we have netting in the spikes. There is constant monitoring of those birds, but it will go into a more significant stage in January or February,” she said.

When the entire demolition project is complete, over 58,000 tons of steel and 245,000 tons of concrete will be removed. Robinson-Leach said Caltrans is considering a steel-recycling proposal for the old bridge in collaboration with the Oakland Museum.

One proposal is to have the museum help distribute steel salvaged from the bridge for creative use by local artists, said Robinson-Leach, to be incorporated into public artworks.

Haus added that some of the material will be sent to one of the museums at UC Berkeley.

In the final stages of demolition, the old bridge’s giant piers will be dismantled.

“We look forward to the continued progress both on top of the bridge and beneath it,” Robinson-Leach said.

Various other aspects of construction, demolition, and inspection will be discussed at a Sept. 30 Oversight Committee meeting.

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