Via the Contra Costa Times:
Benicia Bridge renovation to finish early
A $43.5 million renovation of the Benicia Bridge is on target to be finished in August — four months ahead of schedule — to provide less congestion and smoother travel on Interstate 680 across the Carquinez Strait, Caltrans says.
The upgrade of the 1.2-mile bridge connecting Contra Costa and Solano counties includes a fourth lane for southbound car and truck traffic, a new bike/pedestrian lane, and wide new shoulders as a safety buffer.
A second merging lane will be added for drivers entering the bridge from I-780. Traffic back ups there during the morning commute.
“There won’t be any backup (from I-780) with our new four-lane configuration for the bridge,” said Mo Pazooki, Caltrans project manager. “We’re coming in ahead of schedule and within budget on a project that will help traffic flows.”
He said good weather and a speedy contractor is making for early completion.
The renovation began in January 2008 and was scheduled for completion in December 2009. Now it appears the project will be done sometime in August, with the fourth traffic lane opening first and the bike lane soon after, Caltrans officials said. No official opening date has been set.
The Benicia Bridge used to carry traffic in both northbound and southbound directions when it was built in 1962 to replace the last major ferry for autos in the Bay Area. The old bridge was converted to southbound-only traffic in August 2007, when a $1.2 billion span was opened with five lanes for northbound traffic.
To enable contractors to renovate the old bridge while it still carries traffic, half of the bridge width was shut down and renovated while the other half carried three lanes of traffic.
In August, the entire bridge width will open with four southbound traffic lanes, plus two merging lanes from both I-680 and I-780.
The morning backup occurs as I-780 motorists squeeze onto the bridge in one lane close to a concrete barrier. “Some people tell us they’re scared to drive there merge there,” Pazooki said.
The new 8-foot-wide shoulders on the bridge will ease safety concerns, and provide space to access cars that break down or get in accidents. The bridge has no shoulder now.
In another improvement just south of the bridge, contractors are rebuilding a freeway section above a marsh to eliminate big roadway dips. Those road depressions fill with runoff and flood in winter.
Cellular concrete, which is light but strong, is being used to replace the road there, which developed the dips over years as heavy asphalt used to resurface the lanes made the freeway sink into mud, said Caltrans spokesman Allyn Amsk.
During a tour of the bridge work last week, Caltrans engineers showed the partially complete bike lane, where rails were being installed.
“When you’re out here, you have nice views of the of the water, the (Navy ghost fleet) ships, and the hills along the Carquinez Strait,” said Cassaundra Lograsso, Caltrans’ resident engineer, as she stood on the bridge.
Also in view were the smokestacks, metal piping and towers at the Shell oil refinery and other waterfront industries.
The softer side of the Carquinez Strait — the bluffs, the water, the marshes — have long been a favorite subject for oil and water color painters. It is because of these views walkers and riders may be attracted to the new bike lane across the 1.2-mile bridge.
“Opening the bike and pedestrian lane is a big deal for regional trails,” said Bern Smith, the East Bay trails coordinator for the Bay Area Ridge Council.
He said the bridge renovation will close one of the remaining gaps in a 50-mile regional trail route through the Carquinez Strait hills, over the Carquinez Bridge and along the shoreline of Solano County.
Smith said there used to be a land connection between Martinez and Benicia some half a million years ago when the Central Valley was a huge inland lake before the giant rivers of California had an outlet to the sea through the Carquinez Strait.
“The way I look at it,” he said, “This will be the first time in half a million years that you can walk from Martinez to Benicia.”
Cost: $43.5 million
Expected completion: August
Major elements: fourth lane for southbound traffic, new bicycling/walking lane across the bridge, second merging lane from I-780 onto bridge, elimination of large flood-prone dips on I-680 south of the bridge
Project contractor: Joint venture of Top Grade Construction and American Civil Constructors