Bay Bridge contractors surpassed the 80 percent construction threshold Sunday, and the new span's scheduled 5 a.m. Tuesday opening -- or perhaps even earlier -- is looking more certain every minute.
Work has progressed so smoothly, in fact, that talk of an earlier opening sometime Monday night is the number-one source of speculation out on the bustling construction site as the hundreds of private contractors, tradespeople, consultants and engineers who have helped build the $6.4 billion span over the past 11 years anticipate marking the historic milestone.
The shiny new 2.2-mile replacement eastern span, with its skyway and iconic white tower and cables, is the world's largest self-anchored suspension span and California's most expensive infrastructure project to date.
The bridge team will Monday announce an opening time -- probably a two- or three-hour range. But with speeches, a chain-cutting ceremony and VIP processional across the span set to start at 3 p.m. and take several hours, the public opening is unlikely to happen until late evening at the earliest.
"We are on track for a 5 a.m. Tuesday opening and that is what people should plan for until they hear otherwise, but we will have an announcement sometime (Monday)," said bridge spokesman Andrew Gordon late Sunday. Gordon said the Interstate 80 connection at Yerba Buena Island tunnel was completed at midnight Saturday.
On the Oakland side, all that remains is finishing up paving in the eastbound lanes, striping in both directions, miscellaneous electrical work, final barrier rail installation and general clean up.
MCM and Flatiron West, the two top contractors, finished demolishing on Sunday a 1,000-foot section of the old bridge's upper westbound deck on the Oakland side and began via crane lifting a dozen prefabricated pieces into place of the temporary bicycle and pedestrian trestle.
Cyclists and walkers will be able to start using the temporary wooden path starting at noon Tuesday. Over the next year, contractors will remove the lower westbound deck and build the permanent path.
In reality, several years of work lies ahead once the bridge opens to traffic -- paint touch-up, final aesthetic lighting, permanent bike and pedestrian path installation in Oakland and punching the path all the way to Yerba Buena Island after the old 1936 steel truss bridge is demolished. There will be no pedestrian or bicycle access through to the island until the path is completed in 2015.
In addition, Caltrans took advantage of the rare traffic closure on the west span and tunnel and completed Sunday months' worth of maintenance chores on the west span within a few days, such as steam cleaning the inside of Yerba Buena Island tunnel, replacing the tunnel lights with LEDs to match the new eastern span, and lubricating the expansion joints.
For the next 24 hours, though, the focus is on opening the seismically far safer new bridge to motorists by the time they return to work Tuesday after the long holiday weekend.
Aside from what time the bridge will actually open to cars, another source of speculation has been over the who's who list of dignitaries expected to christen the new bridge at a private ceremony set for 3 p.m. Monday.
"Plenty of people of note," promised Metropolitan Transportation Commission spokesman John Goodwin.
A public ceremony was canceled in July when it became clear that repairs of snapped anchor bolts on the new span would take far longer than expected. The contractor estimates the retrofit will be completed by Dec. 10.
Engineers later approved a temporary fix that would allow the bridge to open on time, but it was too late to resurrect the planned public bridge walk, fireworks and ceremony.
Loath to open the historic bridge without marking the event in some fashion, however, the Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee -- three state and regional agencies overseeing the construction -- opted for an invitation-only event.
The restricted attendance has frustrated numerous Caltrans, regional agency employees and contractors who helped design and build the bridge but could not secure tickets for themselves and their families. Instead, many are holding private celebrations for their employees, including American Bridge/Fluor Enterprises, the primary contractor for the self-anchored suspension segment of the new span.
Those guaranteed a seat at Monday's event and a chance to ride across the span in the ceremonial processional following the 3 p.m. speeches and chain-cutting include the scheduled speakers, of course. Among them are Metropolitan Transportation Commission Chairwoman and Orinda Mayor Amy Worth, state Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Oakland Mayor Jean Quan. Removed from the old span surreptitiously earlier this week, the shy Bay Bridge troll is expected to make a rare appearance.
The Pacific Boys Choir of Oakland will sing the national anthem, and the Oakland Military Institute's color guard will present the colors. California's poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera will read his "Bay Bridge Inauguration Poem: For all the bridge dreamers, bridge builders and bridge crossers."
The committee will also pay tribute to the pioneering women who helped build the bridge as tradeswomen, engineers or other occupations, taking their lead from the Bay Area News Group's "Sisters of the Span" story, photos and video interviews published earlier this year.
Gov. Jerry Brown is out of state and will not attend, but Lt. Gov. and former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is on the program. . Other scheduled speakers include Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty, Metropolitan Transportation Commission Executive Director Steve Heminger, American Bridge/Fluor Joint Enterprises President and CEO Michael Flowers and state Building and Construction Trades Council of California President Robbie Hunter. Christening the bridge on Labor Day is the perfect choice, said Hunter when asked for a sneak preview of his comments.
"We will be standing in the shadow of two of the most historic bridges in the nation, the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge, both built almost 80 years ago," Hunter said. "We will also be standing with the workers who built those bridges and recognizing the people from all the trades who worked in all kinds of weather conditions day after day."
No one is saying which of these people, if any, will wield the acetylene welding torch and make that ceremonial cut. But it sounds like a job for an expert. Just coincidentally, Hunter was an iron worker for 30 years.