The Bay Bridge closed on schedule at 8 p.m. for a four-day construction project that will make it harder to get around the region while crews replace a 300-foot section of the bridge towering over Yerba Buena Island.

Bay Area motorists appeared prepared for the temporary loss of the major artery, as freeway traffic volumes were lighter than normal during the Thursday morning and afternoon commutes, state officials reported.

"It looks like people got the message," said Caltrans spokesman Bart Ney.

At the highly publicized 8 p.m. closure time, California Highway Patrol officers blocked off freeway approaches leading to the bridge, shutting down Interstate 80 between Oakland and San Francisco until 5 a.m. Tuesday.

Meanwhile, highly specialized construction crews began slicing into the 3,300-ton bridge section that will be rolled out sometime Friday and then replaced by a new section to be slid in on giant rails.

Caltrans is installing the new bridge section needed to create a detour so contractors have space to build part of the new Bay Bridge East Span, a $6.2 billion, seismically stronger replacement for the existing East Span.

During the unusual four-day period with no traffic on the bridge, Caltrans will deploy painters, pavers, sign makers, tree pruners and other skilled workers to maintain and spruce up the structure, while San Francisco firefighters will do high angle-rescue drills.


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The firefighters will use tall ladders to simulate the rescue of a maintenance crew member in trouble while working high up.

Caltrans said special arrangements were made to allow people to reach their homes and businesses on Treasure Island, which connects to Yerba Buena Island.

"We have two weddings planned on the island," said John Goodwin of the Bay Area Toll Authority. "We were glad to work to accommodate them."

Reach Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267.

GETTING AROUND DURING BAY BRIDGE CLOSURE
The bridge is closed in both directions until 5 a.m. Tuesday.
Consider public transit for travel within the Bay Area, including BART and ferries.
BART will run trains around the clock through midnight Monday. During the overnight service, BART will keep 14 stations open:
Bay Fair, downtown Berkeley, Coliseum/Oakland Airport, Concord, Dublin/Pleasanton, El Cerrito Del Norte, MacArthur, Oakland City Center/12th Street, Walnut Creek, 24th Street/Mission, Daly City, Embarcadero, Powell Street, and San Francisco International Airport.
AC Transit will pick up and drop off passengers heading to San Francisco on BART at four train stations: Coliseum,
MacArthur, North Berkeley and West Oakland.
Vallejo, Golden Gate, and Baylink and Alameda/Oakland ferries will run extra service Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Extra ferries will be run on Friday from Alameda Harbor Bay.
For the latest traffic info, visit 511.org. For the latest bridge closure info, visit www.BayBridgeInfo.org.