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Many stayed home. Others rode free transit. Commuters generally avoided the Monday gridlock feared after the destruction Sunday of two key East Bay freeway ramps that will take months and "tens of millions" of dollars to replace.

Freeway Meltdown:

A stretch of highway near the Bay Bridge collapsed Sunday after a gasoline tanker crashed and burst into flames, a loss that officials said could leave area freeways jammed at rush hour.

View a slideshow of the I-580 ramp collapse
Watch a video from KGO of the actual collapse of the I-580 ramp
Many stayed home. Others rode free transit. Commuters generally avoided the Monday gridlock feared after the destruction Sunday of two key East Bay freeway ramps that will take months and "tens of millions" of dollars to replace.

But there are no more free rides. Work beckons.

The day of reckoning begins. Now.

"I think (today) may be the bigger test," said BART spokesman Jim Allison.

"Some folks are going to jump in their cars," said Jeff Dorian, a traffic reporter for KSAN-FM (107.7), "and we might find a different commute" today.

Although there were pockets of slow traffic around the Bay, many commuters reported easy drives. One driver saw his afternoon commute cut in half from Emeryville to Oakland.

Traffic was so light in the morning that the metering lights on the Bay Bridge were never turned on. BART ridership seemed about normal, despite free rides. Few trains were full, and parking at BART stationswas not as tough as some feared.

Ferry ridership was up a tad, as some BART riders — fearing crowded trains — decided to take a boat across the Bay on a gorgeous Monday morning.

"The ferry is usually too expensive," said Tracey Rhys of Alameda, "but today I had a lot of incentive" with the offer of a free ride.

Public transit agencies will boost capacity on BART, bus lines and ferry services for as long as necessary, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Monday, but the free rides are gone.

Monday brought a realization that the catastrophe likely will be expensive and may take months to fix. Officials say they are hampered by a steel shortage.

"We are continuing to search the nation for steel needed to repair the 580 deck," said Caltrans Director Will Kempton, adding that the beams may need to be specially fabricated for the repairs. "It is not just a commodity that you buy off the shelf at the hardware store.

"

Crews began hauling away the charred debris Monday and engineers prepared for reconstruction, which could take two to three months. Inspectors X-rayed about a dozen pillars supporting the ramp near the collapsed section to see if they could be salvaged, Caltrans spokesman Jeff Weiss said.

Caltrans has submitted an application for Federal Highway Administration funding of an undisclosed amount, he said.

Two contractors have already been selected — both already very familiar with the exchange. Demolition expert URS Corp. was working on the western approach to the Bay Bridge when the accident happened, and just needed to move its equipment. The construction team of bridge builder ACC West Coast was in the middle of seismic upgrading on the site.

With only a few steel beams left to dismantle and remove late Monday, Kempton said he expected the remains of the collapsed, 82-foot stretch of I-580 to be cleared by late tonight. After that, Caltrans can test the charred, pitted piece of I-880 beneath it to see if it can be reopened quickly with minor repairs, or if it also will need to be rebuilt.

Caltrans has already done a preliminary inspection of the affected stretch, and while Kempton said the agency is "concerned" about the damage that the nearly 3,000-degree inferno created by a tanker-truck explosion Sunday may have caused, he voiced optimism that it could be repaired quickly.

"From what they see, they think there's an opportunity to salvage (it)," Kempton said.

The damaged roadways, vital arteries linking San Francisco and the East Bay, carry about 80,000 vehicles a day.

The early Sunday tanker-truck crash and fire occurred on a westbound I-80 ramp that connects to Interstate 880. An overpass ramp that connects eastbound I-80 to eastbound I-580 collapsed during the fire after the tanker's 8,600 gallons of gas ignited.

The driver, James Mosqueda Sr., 51, of Woodland, was en route from a Benicia refinery to a gas station near Oakland International Airport.

Neither drugs nor alcohol are considered factors in the crash, although Mosqueda may have been speeding, according to the CHP. 

Investigators examined scrapes and other physical evidence from the accident scene Monday to determine what caused the collision and whether the driver was at fault, CHP Officer Les Bishop said.

No one died. Mosqueda, who suffered second-degree burns, was the only person injured. His family Monday expressed gratitude that he had survived.

"We are relieved that James is alive and in stable condition," read the statement issued through Saint Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco. "We are grateful that no one else was hurt and thank God that James is on the road to recovery."

Meanwhile, the Monday afternoon commute mirrored the morning — no major problems.

Traffic on West Grand Avenue in Oakland, one of the detours around two ruined eastbound ramps in the maze, was moderate, said CHP Officer Kevin Kroncke.

"Everyone's doing great in using alternate routes," Kroncke said.

West Oakland residents faced not only detour traffic, but were also beset by the hum of television news helicopters overhead.

"We don't pretend to live in a quiet neighborhood, we're on a bus route," said Hunter Wimmer, who lives on 32nd Street. "But the freeway collapse will already impact our neighborhood with traffic and now the helicopters are rubbing salt in the wound."

Officials urge commuters to continue using mass transit and stay clear of the MacArthur Maze.

BART could not estimate the number of extra riders Monday because fare gates were not used, said spokesman David Martindale. The peak commute appeared normal.

"Before and after the peak, it seemed higher than usual," Martindale said. "That's when we had extra service."

The free rides — offered on virtually all Bay Area public transit Monday — cost roughly $2.5 million, an amount the state plans to reimburse agencies.

The big question is whether motorists will continue to use public transit until the Maze is repaired. Officials have no estimate for how long that could be, but promise that the declaration of an emergency will speed the project.

Andrea Knorr was riding a Pittsburg-Bay Point train at San Francisco's 24th Street-Mission BART station Monday morning. Knorr, who works at a medical office in Concord, said she only heard about the collapse Sunday night on the news.

"I usually drive that road, but BART is free and there are extra trains," Knorr said. "I didn't want to navigate through the detour. I don't know if I'll keep taking the train."

Trains will be longer again today and BART will add six more train trips in the morning, from Pleasant Hill to Montgomery stations. Tuesday afternoon service will also likely be expanded; BART officials are watching the morning commute before making a final decision, Martindale said. The average daily ridership is 340,000.

BART again recommended that riders be dropped off at the station or take a bus there.

BART's East Bay parking lots that tend not to fill as quickly include North Concord, Richmond, Coliseum, Castro Valley and Hayward and South Hayward stations.

Information on mass transit changes are available by calling 511 or going to the 511 Web site, http://www.511.org.

Compiled from reports from staff writers Michele Marcucci and Josh Richman and from MediaNews staffers Scott Marshall, Lisa Krieger, Gary Richards, Dan Reed, Michele Jurich, Mary Anne Ostrom and Lisa Fernandez.