Workers removed the iconic art deco clock from the Golden Gate Bridge toll plaza Thursday in preparation for the installation of a moveable median barrier.
The clock will return to the toll plaza in October once construction work has been completed. During its leave the clock will be refurbished and cleaned, receiving fresh exterior paint and a tune-up of its inner workings.
Dana Fehler, a spokeswoman for the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District, said the clock has become a famous symbol on the bridge.
"The clock is considered a local treasure as it greets motorists each day who have come to rely on it to get them to work or home on time," Fehler said in a statement.
The original 8-foot diameter toll plaza clock was installed in 1949 and replaced with a modern mechanical replica on Aug. 20, 2003. Exposure to the bay's salty air had rusted the original clock, making it difficult for its gears to function and keep time.
Novato resident Dietrich Stroeh, a bridge district board member, said the clock is a landmark for both locals and visitors.
"It's like Big Ben in London, so to speak, but obviously on a smaller scale," Stroeh said. "People comment all the time that they check their watches by that clock."
He said about five years ago the district considered asking companies to sponsor various pieces of the bridge and allowing business to put their names on those items. One of the pieces that was always brought up at meetings was the clock.
"There was such a cry against it because it's such a historic clock," Stroeh said, adding that public outrage quashed any further discussion of the idea.
The clock's refurbishment is part of a $30.3 million project to install a moveable median barrier in January 2015, during a month of historically low traffic counts. The barrier represents a decades-long effort to prevent potentially deadly head-on accidents.
The barrier itself will be constructed and assembled on the bridge by Barrier Systems Inc., a subsidiary of Vacaville-based Lindsay Corp. The preparatory work is being done by San Rafael-based Ghilotti Bros. Inc.
Ghilotti will demolish four toll booths to make room for the barrier and equipment and install crash cushions at the toll plaza, among other tasks. One toll booth will be re-designed to allow for wider and taller vehicles, making its shape different than the others. Until January 2015, the available southbound lanes at the toll plaza will consist of six lanes instead of eight.
Once the barrier's installation is complete -- a process that will close the span for up 52 hours beginning Jan. 10 -- the bridge will have a galvanized gray 1-foot-wide, 32-inch-high barrier made of high-density concrete clad in steel. A yellow barrier transfer machine -- or "zipper truck" -- will be used to move the traffic separator.
Tiburon resident Alice Fredericks, a bridge district board member, said it wasn't until recently that vendors had the technology to create a narrow barrier that would allow the bridge to maintain its current levels of traffic.
"This is really amazing technology on a little bridge like this," Fredericks said. "It will certainly reduce injuries."
The barrier is being paid for with $20 million in federal grants funneled through the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Toll revenue, $8.9 million, and other grant funds, $1.4 million, are anticipated to pay the balance.
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