Caltrans News Release [issued November 11, 1996]

District 4

Harry Yahata, Interim District Director

Bay Bridge Marks 60th Anniversary on Tuesday

The busiest bridge in the United States will celebrate 60 years of storied existence as the centerpiece in the Bay Area's transportation network on Tuesday, November 12th.

Envisioned as the key link between the two largest cities in the Bay Area, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge continues to be the workhorse in the regional transportation system, carrying nearly 275,000 vehicles every day.

However, the bridge has continually evolved and adapted to serve the needs of our diverse commercial, industrial and residential community.

At a cost of $78 million, the Bay Bridge opened six months prior to the Golden Gate Bridge to much fanfare. After all, the impossible had been constructed in an innovative and brilliant way.

The result was a double-deck structure made up of two suspension spans, a cantilever section, a truss bridge, and the largest single-bore tunnel in the world. In order for two suspension spans to work, a center anchorage bigger than any building in San Francisco at the time had to be built.

The bridge opened in November, 1936 with a toll of 65 cents, collected in each direction. In order to compete with the ferry system, the toll was reduced to 50 cents, 25 each way on February 1, 1937, less than three months after its opening. Three lanes of auto traffic on the upper deck and two lanes for trucks with tracks for Key System and interurban trains on the lower deck were provided.

In 1959, the railroad tracks were removed and both decks were converted to automobile traffic. The result was five 11-foot wide lanes on each deck. The toll became 50 cents one-way in November, 1966 and wasn't raised to 75 cents until July, 1977.

Still, increasing traffic demand required more innovation and change. In April, 1970 a carpool lane was opened for buses only and extended to carpools in December, 1971. In March, 1975 toll charges were dropped on these priority lanes.

At that time a signal system, otherwise known as metering lights, was installed to regulate traffic on the bridge and reduce congestion and accidents. During the 1980s, the toll plaza was renovated, lights were installed on both spans and the tolls raised to $1.

But the bridge faced its biggest crisis on October 17, 1989 when the Loma Prieta earthquake caused a section of the upper and lower deck to collapse near the top of the incline. The bridge was shut down, while crews worked diligently to repair it. A month later it reopened with a new addition: a small metal troll welded onto the side of the upper deck, visible only to boaters and bridge crews below.

Now on the eve of its birthday, the bridge faces its biggest challenge yet: a massive public works project to strengthen the structure and bring it up to stringent earthquake standards.

Caltrans has begun the first phase of its Bay Bridge retrofit project, a $22 million project to strengthen the east approach. More projects will get underway in spring 1997 as plans become finalized.

In addition, new ramps from westbound I-80 in Emeryville and northbound I-880 (Cypress) will provide improved connections to the bridge for carpoolers and other motorists. A traffic operations system (TOS) made up of cameras and roadway sensors is also being installed on the bridge to provide Caltrans and CHP officials with timely and accurate traffic information.

More Bay Bridge information:

The Bridges on San Francisco Bay

Facts and information about Bay Bridge

Back to Bay Bridge construction photos>

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