I was wrong, but the traffic numbers do not lie

New San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge not designed to handle more, but argument still the same

Blog Entry October 21, 2013
Bill Wilson

Bill Wilson is the editorial director of ROADS & BRIDGES magazine and has been covering the industry since 1999. He has won seven Robert F. Boger Awards for editorial excellence, including three in 2011. He also was the creator of the Top 10, Contractor's Choice Awards and Recycling Awards platforms, as well as ROADS & BRIDGES Live.

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OK, so the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge is smaller than I thought, but I am not going to reconfigure the basis of my argument.

A couple of weeks ago I penned a blog on the span, boasting about how it was designed to handle more traffic. Well, it really wasn’t, even though it does have shoulders—something the old bridge lacked.

I assumed the dimensions were wider mainly because I thought that’s what engineers did when they planned for a new bridge these days. With the population continuing to increase, why wouldn’t you try to accommodate for more cars when given the opportunity?

So now there is a big problem in northern California. The congestion is only going to get worse, and they have a brand new bridge incapable of handling the spike. The short-term fix would be to convert the shoulders into lanes. As far as the long-term fix, several traffic engineers are saying during peak hours the bridge will have to handle one-way traffic only. Congestion pricing could be another option.

The main theme of my original argument was, when given the chance, we need to build our way out of congestion. Caltrans failed at this task. Engineers are all about conducting the necessary due-diligence. I admire the way they pour over the numbers, and traffic forecasts are always included when a major corridor is being constructed. So what was the line of thinking when the experts saw the predicted car counts for the next 20 years? I guess they thought it would be smaller.

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