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The new Bay Bridge glows after sunset on Monday, Aug. 26, 2013. Crews continue to adjust the architectural lighting that showcases the 525-single anchor suspension tower. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

OAKLAND -- All systems are go for the five-day Bay Bridge shutdown that officially starts 8 p.m. on Wednesday.

"Everything is completely on track," said Bay Bridge spokesman Andrew Gordon. "The weather looks great. The prep work is on schedule. We foresee nothing ahead that would knock us off our timetable.

"By this time next week, everyone should be enjoying the new eastern span."

Contractors building the replacement eastern span of the Bay Bridge will work 24-7 during the closure realigning travel lanes in Oakland and Yerba Buena Island with the new bridge.

The shiny new and seismically safer $6.4 billion span is set to open by 5 a.m. Tuesday at the latest, possibly the night before if the work is done early.

But before motorists can enjoy the prize, they must first pay the entry fee: No Bay Bridge for five days.

That will likely mean longer drive times, more crowded freeways and local congestion around the 15 closed freeway onramps in Oakland and San Francisco. Drivers must also share the road with an estimated 2,500 trucks carrying temperature sensitive asphalt between Pleasanton and the construction site.

For those who opt to drive the long way around via the other toll bridges, experts advise adding an hour or more to the drive time between San Francisco and the East Bay.

Better yet, let someone else do the driving. BART, AC Transit and the ferry operators are running extra service throughout the closure. For transportation options, call 511 or visit 511.org.


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Out on the new bridge, contractors will put the traffic-free time to use.

Crews on the Oakland side will demolish a portion of the eastbound deck, construct new travel lanes and tie them to the new span. They must also pave, stripe and put in place large concrete barrier rails.

In addition, contractors will erect a temporary bike and pedestrian trestle for use while the remaining sections of the old touchdown are removed to make room for the permanent path.

The complex transition structure that ties the double-decked Yerba Buena Island tunnel to the side-by-side deck on the suspension span is finished. But contractors need to grind, pave and stripe the new roadway as soon as they have access.

With no traffic, Caltrans maintenance crews will knock down a list of chores on the western half of the Bay Bridge, too. The work includes interim repairs on Bay Lights, the massive LED art show that has had problems with moisture in the fixtures.

All the hassle, cost and inconvenience will pay off.

The new 2.2-mile crossing is actually two bridges -- a long concrete skyway and the world's largest self-anchored suspension span -- flanked by a pair of complex connector structures on each end.

Unlike the current double-deck, 1936 steel cantilevered truss bridge, the new span has wide open side-by-side decks with expansive 360-degree views.

And the dreaded temporary detour or S-curve with its rumble strips and reduced speed limit will be gone. The speed limit on the entire bridge will return to 50 miles per hour.

Both the western and eastern spans have five travel lanes in each direction but the new bridge has shoulders -- two in each direction -- for disabled or wrecked vehicles, tow trucks and police. That should speed up traffic flow.

Most important, engineers say the new span is far safer.

The old bridge sits on timbered piles in the Bay mud and engineers predict it will collapse when a major temblor hits on the nearby Hayward or San Andreas faults. A piece of the upper deck on the 1936 span dropped like a trap door onto the lower travel lane in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and one person died.

Contact Lisa Vorderbrueggen at 925-945-4773, lvorderbrueggen@bayareanewsgroup.com or Twitter.com/lvorderbrueggen.

timeline
7-8 p.m., Wednesday -- CHP will start rolling traffic breaks on Interstate 80 approaches to the Bay Bridge in San Francisco and Oakland. A total of 15 connector ramps will close.
8 p.m., Wednesday -- Entire Bay Bridge closes to traffic. Contractors begin demolishing westbound approach in Oakland to make room for the bike and pedestrian path connector, and start grinding and paving operations. Lights in Yerba Buena Island tunnel will be replaced with LEDs.
Thursday -- Realignment work kicks in high gear on eastern side, while maintenance and inspection of the western span and tunnel begins.
Friday -- Contractor applies polyester protective roadway coating on the travel lanes near the tunnel.
Saturday -- Demolition of westbound approach in Oakland nears completion. West span maintenance and inspection continues.
Sunday -- Lane striping and temporary bike and pedestrian path trestle installation starts on Oakland side.
Monday -- More lane striping, bike path installation and barrier rail placement. Operations nearing completion and clean up ensues.
3 p.m., Monday -- Invitation-only chain-cutting ceremony on the span near the Toll Plaza.
Sometime late Monday up until 5 a.m. Tuesday -- Final work and clean up performed. Caltrans begins removing connector ramp barrier cones in San Francisco and Oakland, and CHP gradually escorts vehicles onto the new bridge until all five lanes are open.
Noon, Tuesday -- Bike and pedestrian path opens. Visitors will be able to walk or cycle partway across the span. The path will be open from dawn until dusk seven days a week. The final connection to Yerba Buena Island should be completed by 2015.
Source: Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee