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San Francisco Bay Area community news

Oakland I-580 overpass collapse may cause months of grief

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
April 29, 2007

A 750-foot section of Interstate 580 in Oakland collapsed early Sunday after a gasoline tanker truck overturned and caught fire, authorities said. Residents are being urged to prepare alternate commuting routes or take advantage of public transportation systems, many of which have been made free temporarily.

Transbay commuters could be looking at months of ugly gridlock — the likes of which have not been seen since a section of the Bay Bridge collapsed in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, officials said Sunday.

Commuters are being urged to avoid the Bay Bridge and seek alternate modes of transportation. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Office announced Sunday afternoon that funding would be available for free transit Monday on BART, AC Transit and ferries, although details were still being worked out last night.

A section of the MacArthur Maze collapsed early Sunday after a tanker carrying 8,600 gallons of unleaded gasoline tipped over and caught fire, burning a 250-yard section of freeway at temperatures up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, according to California Highway Patrol Officer Trenton Cross.

The eastbound Highway 580 overpass — used by an estimated 60,000 drivers each day — melted and fell onto eastbound Highway 80, while hot fuel drained onto the southbound Highway 880 ramp, potentially destabilizing it as well, according to Caltrans spokesman Jeff Weiss.

Eastbound Highway 80 to eastbound Highway 580 will remain closed until it is repaired — a process that could take months. Meanwhile, eastbound Highway 80 to southbound Highway 880 is closed until crews determine whether it is safe, Weiss said. Officials said they could not estimate Sunday how long repairs would take or how much they would cost.

Schwarzenegger also issued an emergency declaration Sunday afternoon, a step that allows the project to be fast-tracked and makes it eligible for emergency funding.

Many of the estimated 280,000 commuters who cross the Bay Bridge daily spent Sunday developing their game plan.

“I’m debating whether it’s possible to take 880 up and across or go to the San Mateo Bridge,” said San Ramon resident Bill Perrault, who works in San Francisco as the vice president of information technology for a small firm. “I’m usually up at about 5:30 [a.m.], now I’ll get up closer to 5 or before then,” Perrault said.

“The sight [of the collapsed freeway] was a jaw-dropper,” said Randy Rentschler, director of legislation and public affairs for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, who was snared in East Bay traffic Sunday coming home from a weekend trip. “This is really going to impact one of the most congested areas.”

While many of the Bay Area’s elevated freeways have been retrofitted to withstand earthquakes, there’s no way to protect them from a high- intensity fire like this one, according to Weiss.

“These are the temperatures you use to forge steel, so it’s going to melt under extreme heat,” Weiss said. “I don’t know how you could avoid that.”

No one was injured in the crash except the driver, 51-year-old James Mosqueda of Woodland, who suffered second-degree burns, according to the CHP. The CHP is investigating whether the driver may have been speeding, but has indicated that alcohol and drugs did not appear to be factors in the crash.

Staff Writer Alexandria Rocha contributed to this report.

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

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Written by Beth Winegarner

April 29, 2007 at 10:20 PM

Posted in Breaking news

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