ON APRIL 29, just a few hours before sunrise, a tanker truck carrying

8,600 gallons of gasoline was traveling over the MacArthur Maze that connects interstate highways 80, 880 and 580. Suddenly driver James Mosqueda of Woodland lost control and crashed.

Though Mosqueda thankfully survived, the truck's flammable cargo ignited on a westbound I-80 ramp that connects with I-880. An overpass ramp that joins eastbound I-80 to eastbound I-580, weakened by the inferno below, soon collapsed. One of the major arteries in the Bay Area had been severed — two sections of freeway that typically carry 500,000 daily commuters were suddenly out of service. Bay Area experts estimated the daily economic impact would range from $4 million to

$6 million.

Disaster came calling in a most unexpected manner and many wondered how their lives would be affected — and how long it would take to clean up this mess and rebuild the maze. A mere nine days after the crash, Caltrans found the answers, resurrected one connector and began rebuilding the other.

Remarkably, thanks to a push from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the I-880 ramp opened Monday. The next day, even more remarkable, Caltrans awarded a bid of just $867,075 to Rancho Cordova-based CC Myers Inc. for replacing the freeway ramp that collapsed. Work is already under way, with a deadline set for June 28 — and there's a chance the company can erect the new ramp by June 3. If so, the incentive is that it will collect seven times the amount of the bid.


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That's inspiring to any construction company.

Caltrans has taken much criticism in the past — no, we have not forgotten about the Bay Bridge blunder — but this time it has performed admirably under difficult circumstances. The MacArthur Maze is a vital piece of highway that Bay Area commuters depend on, and the prospects of having it repaired in such a short time is a tremendous boost.

Of course, some are tempted to wonder out loud why all freeway projects can't go this quickly. This is an emergency situation under extraordinary circumstances — we would feel uncomfortable about rushing all freeway projects (including vulnerable bridges) like this, considering the safety issues.

Which leads us to caution Caltrans that it needs to monitor maze reconstruction closely since the bid is quite low, and the work is being done rapidly. We appreciate the swiftness of the work, but let's not compromise safety along the way.

Still, the day the maze collapsed, Bay Area commuters were faced with a dilemma not seen since the Loma Prieta earthquake. Thanks to fast work by Caltrans, and the push by Gov. Schwarzenegger, things seem to be going smoothly, and it won't be long before traffic jams once again fill the maze. Yes, things may return to normal sooner than we expected.