Workers make last-minute repairs Sunday to the Interstate 880 southbound connector ramp, which has been closed since the April 29 freeway fire. The lower ramp was scheduled to reopen this morning.
Workers make last-minute repairs Sunday to the Interstate 880 southbound connector ramp. (Sean Connelley - Staff)
Bay Area commuters starting the work week are getting a big break this morning — a reopened ramp onto the Interstate 880 ramp in the Oakland freeway maze, eight days after a fireball damaged it.

But it will still take eight to nine weeks to rebuild the I-580 connector, which was collapsed by the gasoline tanker-truck crash in the early morning hours of April 29, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a statement Sunday.

In what is apparently a government first, bids on the I-580 contract — expedited by the governor's declaration of an emergency, are to be opened live on the Internet today.

In the meantime, ACC West Coast workers hired by the state were expected to complete repairs on both damaged lanes of the lower I-80 to southbound

I-880 ramp in the MacArthur Maze by 5 a.m. today, in time for the morning commute.

"Seven days ago, I visited thesite and saw the destruction of the I-580 overpass and a heavily damaged I-880 connector," Schwarzenegger said.

"I want to thank Caltrans and their contractors for working around the clock to get this done, our local partners for all their help, and most of all, Bay Area commuters for their continued patience.

"More work still needs to be done, and we will work day and night until the rest of the maze has been repaired."

Even though the lower I-880 ramp has been repaired, workers will intermittently close it after today's opening as work progresses on the demolished

I-580 connector, according to the state Transportation Department.

Caltrans said the closures will occur at night, not during the day, and especially not during commute hours.

On Wednesday officials said they expected the I-880 connector to be open sometime between Wednesday and Saturday of this week. But crews worked around the clock to get it open earlier.

Workers were making final preparations Sunday afternoon as Caltrans Director Will Kempton spoke with reporters near the site. He said the connector was "as sound as it was before the accident."

"No corners were cut," he said. "This is a safe bridge. I would bring my family on this bridge any day of the week."

About 35,000 drivers use the I-880 connector daily, Kempton said.

The exact cost of the I-880 repairs is unknown. The state allocated $8 million for construction and $4.3 million for demolition for the I-880 project, as well as $2 million for traffic management.

"It will be a matter of weeks," Kempton said, before final cost figures are determined, but officials expected they would be less than what was authorized.

Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger has set June 27 as the reopening date for the new upper ramp — two days earlier than previously announced.

But the reopening of the connector may come even earlier, according to Caltrans officials, because the state will award an incentive-based contract. The winning bidder will receive $200,000 for every day the highway opens earlier than the June 27 deadline.

Bids for reconstruction of the I-580 deck will open at 10 a.m. today at Caltrans headquarters in downtown Sacramento. The state plans to award the contract tonight, with work expected to begin Tuesday.

The bid opening will be carried live at http://www.dot.ca.gov/

bidopening.

Over the weekend, in preparation for today's bid opening, Caltrans held a walk-through of the site for any companies who want to be eligible to bid on the I-580 job. Likewise, the state held an outreach session for small businesses that might want to become subcontractors.

Contact Steve Geissinger at sgeissinger@angnewspapers.com, (916) 447-9302. Contact Kelly Rayburn at krayburn@angnewspapers.

com.