Whenever the Bay Bridge has been closed for a weekend of construction, drivers have dealt with mild congestion on area roads — or have switched to BART or otherwise altered their travel plans to avoid a traffic nightmare.
The closure planned for this Labor Day weekend, beginning at 8 p.m. Thursday, brings a new test. The bridge will be shut for four days — its longest scheduled closure — and for the first time on a regular commute day — Friday.
"Friday will be a real challenge for traffic," said John Goodwin, a spokesman for the Bay Area Toll Authority, a partner with Caltrans in operating state bridges in the Bay Area. "We are concerned about the commute."
Still, Goodwin and other officials said they expect Bay Area residents will prevent an inconvenience from becoming worse because they've learned from past closures.
While some freeways were choked with traffic when the bridge was closed in one direction over the Labor Day weekend in 2006, traffic jams were less serious during a full closure during the Labor Day weekend in 2007.
"People are catching on," Goodwin said.
To give them a boost, Caltrans is spending about $1 million on a media blitz urging the public to minimize freeway driving, take public transit and move up any plans to leave town to Thursday rather than Friday.
"There is no good time to lose a bridge carrying some 280,000 vehicles a day," Goodwin said. "We recognize there will be a public inconvenience and we are working hard to keep it to a minimum."
The bridge closes 8 p.m. sharp Thursday, and is scheduled to reopen by 5 a.m. Tuesday — as long as crews finish replacing a 300-foot-long bridge section.
BART will run trains around the clock from Thursday morning through midnight Monday, and several ferry lines are planning extra runs.
BART had record ridership during the 2007 Labor Day weekend closure.
"We're not sure what will happen this time because the bridge hasn't been closed (intentionally) on a work day before," said BART spokesman Linton Johnson.
The Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 closed the bridge for a month in an unplanned event.
"I expect we will have heavier ridership than normal on Friday," Johnson said, "but probably not record ridership this time because so many people are out of work."
To ease congestion Friday, transportation officials have suggested that workers who usually drive the Bay Bridge consider commuting by BART or ferry, working from home, or taking the day off.
Saturday creates another traffic challenge when the Cal Bears play their football home opener and the Oakland A's play a home game. (The A's are home all weekend.)
Goodwin said his advice to sport fans is simple: Take public transit.
Reach Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267.
Bay Bridge is closed
The bridge will close in both directions from 8 p.m. Thursday to 5 a.m. Tuesday. If leaving town for the long weekend:
For the latest traffic info: visit 511.org. For latest bridge closure info: visit www.BayBridgeInfo.org. \