OAKLAND -- The buzz and hum of activity in the Bay Bridge construction zone is reaching new levels as the bridge team and the contractors start the two-week countdown clock to opening.
Painters are touching up the rails and tower. Crews are installing irrigation and topsoil for landscaping near the Toll Plaza. Electricians are wrapping up the final lighting details. Equipment trucks rumble back and forth.
Nothing short of a "blizzard can stop the Labor Day weekend switch-over now," Bay Bridge spokesman Andrew Gordon joked Tuesday following an update on what to expect during the five-day closure. The entire bridge -- western and eastern spans -- is scheduled to close at 8 p.m. Aug. 28, and reopen to traffic at5 a.m. Sept. 3.
Why the snow analogy? The new lane stripes won't stick to the asphalt if it is too cold, and the asphalt won't cure properly if the material gets too wet, Gordon explained.
But the bridge team isn't even entertaining the idea that Mother Nature will dampen its plans, not after 11 years of construction, $6.4 billion in taxpayer money and a tortured back-and-forth timetable triggered by the disastrous fracture of very large steel anchor rods earlier this year.
In truth, the remaining work is relatively easy compared to building the world's largest single-tower, self-anchored suspension span -- a bit of demolition, paving, striping and installing large concrete traffic barriers that will align Interstate 80 on either end of the span in Oakland and at Yerba Buena Island.
The contractors must also tear out a portion of the Oakland bridge approach to make room for the new bicycle and pedestrian path, which will include the installation of a wooden trestle currently being pre-assembled off-site and staged on truck beds for delivery during the closure.
In addition, the contractors must build and deploy a drainage and waste-disposal system that will keep concrete dust and other debris out of the bay and its wetlands.
Caltrans is taking the opportunity during the closure to perform maintenance on the western span, as well.
Theoretically, the contractors could finish the work early and the bridge could open earlier than scheduled, but don't count on it, Gordon said.
"We have time built into the schedule to handle typical construction issues, such as a piece of equipment that fails and needs to be replaced, but we are focused on 5 a.m. on Tuesday," Gordon said.
The state last shut down the Bay Bridge for new span construction -- westbound lanes only -- over President's Day weekend in 2012 and reopened 36 hours earlier than projected.
The full bridge was closed four days over Labor Day weekend in 2009 after contractors rolled intoplace the temporary detour called the S-curve. A broken eyebar on the old span triggered a six-day shutdown in late October and early November that same year.
All of this may matter little to the folks in the 270,000 average vehicles a day that cross the Bay Bridge who are forced to find another route that Thursday and Friday, although the holiday weekend does historically draw less traffic.
Gordon encourages travelers to plan ahead and check 511.org for alternatives, such as BART, ferries or the other toll bridges.
If all goes as planned, come Sept. 3, motorists on the new side-by-side span will have an entirely different experience than they had on the 1936 double-deck steel cantilever truss bridge they cross today.
Say goodbye to the dreaded S-curve and its jarring traffic bumps and mandatory 35 mph slowdown; that temporary connector structure at Yerba Buena Island built to take the traffic while the new span was under construction will be a thing of the past.
Instead, the new bridge gently banks onto Yerba Buena Island, where it transitions from side-by-side decks into and out of the double-decker tunnel. Westbound, the new lanes are almost a straight shot out of the Toll Plaza.
The new bridge has the same number of lanes as the old span -- five in each direction -- but they are wider. Each of the two parallel decks also has two shoulders. . Stalls or accidents can be moved onto the shoulders, which will help keep traffic moving.