Assemblyman calls for new Richmond-San Rafael Bridge after second mishap

A state assemblyman has called for funding to replace the haggard Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, where chunks of concrete fell from the upper deck for the second time in two months on Friday.

“Enough with the Band-Aids, let’s have a bridge that will last for generations,” said Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-Marin County, who was sitting in traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge on Friday afternoon. He had gone to lunch with his parents in Walnut Creek, then taken a circuitous route back to Marin to avoid the troubled span.

The latest mishap occurred shortly after 1 p.m., when a motorist called the California Highway Patrol to report football-sized pieces of debris on the lower deck. CHP officers shut down two eastbound traffic lanes for about two hours, causing backups along Interstate 580 and Highway 37. No injuries were reported.

Inspectors later determined that the material chipped off the upper deck after workers finished nightly repairs for a major maintenance project — swapping out 61 aging steel joints. The sticks of rebar, each encased in a protective layer of concrete, connect sections of the bridge and allow it to move when the temperature changes.

Concrete frequently expands and loosens, particularly when it’s jostled by jack hammers and hacksaws. A Caltrans spokeswoman said the agency “will continue to monitor the bridge closely” and that it’s “working with the contractor to prevent additional spalling” — transportation-speak for concrete peeling off a steel bar — “as the work continues.”

Caltrans started its $10 million repair effort last month, after bits of concrete broke from an expansion joint and pelted a Mercedes. That spillage left a 6-foot cavity beneath the roadway, shutting the span for nine hours and causing gridlock as far away as downtown San Francisco.

It was a teachable moment for local politicians and motorists who cross the bridge each day, many of whom have watched it suffer potholes and gashes over the years. Opened in 1956, the undulating structure is carrying more cars and trucks by the year, as workers commute from the housing-rich East Bay to jobs in San Rafael, Marin and San Francisco.

Traffic and freight loads got heavier after the Recession ended in 2009, Levine said. He views the workhorse span as a key piece of the Bay Area’s culture and economy. Yet it’s battered each day by big rigs, rain and briny salt air, said John Goodwin, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

“The need to replace this bridge eventually is on our radar screen,” Goodwin said,

Rebuilding a bridge takes years and costs billions of dollars, but Levine said he’s already got the process started. He met with Caltrans director Laurie Berman in the state Capitol last week and made a state budget request for $10 million to start the planning phase.

Additionally, Levine has asked the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to develop concepts for a new span. He said that this year alone the state will pay $100 million to maintain the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, which doesn’t include the cost of economic disruption whenever concrete falls, forcing closures.

“This is a cry for help from the bridge,” he said. “We need to make an investment here.”

Goodwin said that Bay Area transit officials will “eventually have no option” but to build a new bridge. The question is when they can secure the money. Caltrans already has to replace the deck some time in the next decade, which by itself would cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Building a new structure “is not a ‘right now’ thing,” Goodwin said. “But it is a ‘before too long’ thing. Like any 65-year-old, this bridge is getting creaky.”

Rachel Swan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: rswan@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @rachelswan

Rachel Swan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: rswan@sfchronicle.com

This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Falling-concrete-closes-2-eastbound-lanes-of-13745593.php.

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