Eastbound lane reopened after Richmond-San Rafael Bridge shuts down again

February 7, 2019 in News by RBN Staff


Source: The Press Democrat


One eastbound lane of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge was open again as of 5:10 p.m. Thursday during ongoing emergency safety inspections prompted by falling concrete chunks that crashed onto at least one vehicle and shut down the bridge spanning the northernmost portion of the San Francisco Bay.

The Caltrans update marked the second time the bridge had been reopened after a morning closure and a second afternoon closure.

Caltrans HQ


The Richmond-San Rafael Bridge remains closed as Caltrans engineers inspect the bridge to further assess the situation. Please avoid the area and use alternate routes. Check our Caltrans QuickMap app or http://quickmap.dot.ca.gov  for updates.

View image on Twitter

Caltrans HQ


One lane is now open eastbound on the Richmond-San Rafael bridge.

See Caltrans HQ’s other Tweets

The key concern remained whether the falling concrete chunks were signs of structural problems with the main link over the bay between Marin County and Contra Costa County.

Caltrans authorities had hoped to reopen all lanes by 6 p.m. and had opened one westbound lane on the upper deck and one eastbound lane on the lower deck. It wasn’t immediately clear what led officials to bring traffic to a halt again, with Caltrans posting via Twitter that engineers needed “to further assess the situation” and recommended alternate routes.

Concrete chunks — some as big as footballs — began falling from the upper deck onto lower-level eastbound traffic lanes near the toll plaza on the Richmond side just after 10:30 a.m., CHP officials said.

Caltrans spokesman Vince Jacala, during a mid-afternoon interview with reporters on the bridge, said they would open lanes after determining “it’s safe enough to do that.”

A construction project is underway on the bridge, but it was too early to say whether that had caused the concrete chunks to fall, Jacala said.

“That’s part of our inspection so I don’t want to speculate,” Jacala said during the videotaped interview. “Obviously the bridge gets used a lot. There are heavy uses of the bridge and just like anything if you use it a lot there’s a lot of wear and tear.”

The bridge was completely shut down for more than three hours while Caltrans engineers ruled out the possibility that falling concrete indicated a serious structural problem. The closure caused traffic headaches throughout the Bay Area as drivers sought alternative routes.

Jake Mackenzie, chair of the Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission, said early reports from Caltrans suggested no major damage to the infrastructure.

“This is a vehicle safety problem in terms of pieces of concrete, and not part of the structural integrity of the bridge,” he said. “Caltrans is meeting its responsibility and should have a better idea of maintenance soon.”

The bridge serves roughly 82,000 vehicles per day compared to about 120,000 across the Golden Gate Bridge, according to Caltrans data. Caltrans workers were on the bridge and assessing the damage.

Falling debris was first reported about 10:35 a.m. by the driver of a white Mercedes, who called 911 and said a chunk of concrete fell onto the car and caused major damage, according to preliminary CHP reports.

That driver continued on their way, but a sergeant who arrived on the bridge shortly after the report confirmed chunks “as small as pebbles and as large as footballs” were falling from the top westbound span onto the lower lanes, CHP spokesman Officer Andrew Barclay said.

Officers began shutting down eastbound lanes, stalling traffic on the bridge before the area where the concrete was falling. They then began clearing the top deck, according to Barclay.

“Concrete is falling from the upper deck to the lower deck. That begs the question what’s happening with the upper deck,” Barclay said.

A total shutdown was ordered about 11:42 a.m., and officials began turning drivers back and clearing traffic from the bridge. The debris stopped falling once traffic was totally clear of the upper deck, allowing officers to funnel all westbound traffic around a small debris field and off the bridge, according to the officer.

UC Berkeley doctoral student Rebecca Hachmyer, 37, of Petaluma, ran right into the middle of the sudden gridlock on her way east for an afternoon research group session. She said she and many others turned off their cars during the hour-long standstill when she began witnessing cars using the furthest right lane to try to exit by either backing up or even turning around and driving west in the eastbound lanes.

“We just sat and sat and sat,” said Hachmyer. “Then people started zooming into that third lane. I just sort of rolled my eyes at folks trying to beat the traffic. With them jamming it up, it removed what I thought would be the best way to do an orderly evacuation if we had to turn around and exit the bridge the wrong way.” Once vehicles were eventually cleared, Caltrans workers got onto the bridge and began inspecting the bridge.

Although Caltrans’ initial plan included one lane opened in each direction while repair work was completed ahead of again closing them, the peak evening commute still loomed as drivers made their way to and from Sonoma County. Local officials expected heavy delays throughout the region’s primary roadways, including alternative routes such as the routinely bumper-to-bumper Highway 37, which Caltrans figures normally sees 42,000 cars per day.

“Any time there’s an incident like an accident on the roadway that even closes one lane, let alone an entire major thoroughfare, the ripple effect takes hours and hours to go away,” said Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt, who also serves on the MTC. “I told my wife to beware, the commute home will be hellish because of the impacts. It’ll mean some late dinners for commuters tonight throughout the North Bay.”

Hachmyer noted she enjoyed chatting with others who were out of their cars and also wondering the extent of the what led to the hold up before they were eventually permitted to exit the bridge.

“It was very little wind and great weather, which was a benefit,” she said. “It was a lovely day to stare out at the water, so long as the bridge doesn’t collapse.”

Check back for updates on this developing story.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem. You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or kevin.fixler@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @kfixler.

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