Bay Area avoids collapsed freeway

TUESDAY, MAY 1, 2007

OAKLAND, Calif. – Bay Area commuters skirted the wreckage of a collapsed section of freeway Monday as crews began hauling away the charred debris that had been a vital link between San Francisco and its eastern suburbs.

The snarled highways envisioned for the region didn’t materialize Monday morning, as many commuters seized on free public transportation, avoided rush hour or just stayed home.

The interchange was destroyed early Sunday when the heat of a burning gasoline tanker truck weakened part of one overpass, crumpling it onto another. The truck’s driver walked away with only second-degree burns; no other injuries were reported.

To encourage motorists to switch to public transit, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger authorized free passage Monday on ferries, buses and the BART rail system. Extra trains were added and bus and ferry operators also expanded service.

Many commuters avoided peak congestion by getting a head start or leaving later than usual, said Bay Area Rapid Transit spokesman Jim Allison.

“I did make a little effort to get here a little earlier today because of the freeway melting, or whatever you want to call it,” Mark Griffey, who took a BART train into the city, told KTVU-TV.

Inspectors X-rayed about a dozen pillars supporting the ramp near the collapsed section to see if they could be salvaged, said Jeff Weiss, a spokesman for the California Department of Transportation.

“Until all the data has been collected, we can’t move forward with the design,” he said.

Originally built in the 1950s, the collapsed roadway was retrofitted in the late 1990s to withstand earthquake damage. Rather than rebuild the ramp to existing blueprints, however, engineers will likely overhaul the interchange to conform to today’s more stringent seismic standards.

State officials promised to move swiftly, and observers said the span could be rebuilt in a matter of months.

“Two to three months is not unreasonable a time frame in which we can completely rebuild these structures,” said Frieder Sieble, dean of the engineering school at the University of California, San Diego.

The investigation was still under way, but the California Highway Patrol believes the driver, James Mosqueda, 51, may have been speeding. Investigators were examining evidence at the scene, CHP Officer Les Bishop said.


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