Bay Bridge closure raises questions for Alameda
Bay Bridge closure raises questions for Alameda
Editor's Note: This piece has been updated to include the Bay Farm Island Bridge, which connects the main Island to Bay Farm and, by extension, Oakland and the rest of the Bay Area. The Alamedan regrets the omission.
The Bay Bridge’s temporary closure earlier this month was a minor inconvenience for most. But it was an exasperating headache for Treasure Island residents, who relied on sparse shuttle buses and ferries to transport them on and off of the island that weekend. Treasure Island connects directly to the Bay Bridge, and the closure – to connect the bridge’s new eastern span – left thousands stranded.
The closure and its impacts raised a critical question for Island residents: Could all of Alameda’s bridges and the Posey and Webster tubes become impassable in an emergency, stranding Island residents?
A top city official says Alameda is not likely to find itself in that predicament.
“I don’t see any scenario where (all four bridges closing) would necessarily occur,” said Acting Public Works Director Robert G. Haun.
Still, none of the bridges or tunnels connecting Alameda to the outside world are considered safe enough to cross after a major earthquake.
The Park Street, High Street and Fruitvale bridges underwent “no collapse” retrofitting in 2009, but none of the three bridges is sound enough to be considered a “lifeline facility” that would be safe for emergency responders to cross in the event of a major earthquake. (The Bay Farm Island Bridge was reportedly upgraded to the same "no collapse" standard in 1997.) A Caltrans spokesman did not return an e-mail seeking additional comment on the safety of Alameda's bridges Monday.
City and county officials have been seeking the funding to upgrade the Fruitvale Bridge to lifeline standards for a decade, without success. A regional sales tax measure on the November 2012 ballot included $157.8 million to replace all three bridges with new ones that meet the lifeline standard, but voters rejected it.
Both tubes received a major seismic retrofit in 2000, making them strong enough to prevent a loss of life if a big temblor or other disaster hits. Caltrans is planning upgrades that include a new sidewalk and guardrail, lighting, signage, closed-circuit cameras and exterior portal upgrades at a cost of $8 million, but that doesn’t include any additional seismic work.
In his new role, Haun focuses on how natural disasters and worst-case situations can affect the city’s infrastructure. Almost immediately after starting work in July, Haun made a point of memorizing the locations of all government lots with emergency vehicles on-site, in the event of structural damage caused by earthquakes.
“In the event of an evacuation, people (in Alameda) would try to get to the valley. But once everyone left Katrina, no one came back,” he said.
The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina provided the nation with a model of what not to do. Mass evacuation of New Orleans wrought widespread community and economic havoc. Over one million citizens were left behind in the flooded city without adequate access to fresh water. Though electrical power returned promptly to hasten recovery, city government often waived critical inspections, such as assessing and replacing wiring and power structures that had been submerged during the flood. An emphasis on quick recovery further endangered citizens by recycling damaged and possibly dangerous electrical structures.
So what’s Alameda’s backup plan in the event that it loses every bridge and tunnel to the outside world? Stay home, unless evacuation is absolutely necessary.
Alameda has a wealth of contingency plans already in place, Haun said; he suggested residents try to develop the same for their own homes. Weatherproofing upgrades to windows and doors, as well as stocking up the pantry with non-perishables, can provide peace of mind when strong weather hits, he said.
Haun said the city has the tools it needs to guarantee its people’s safety in an emergency if Alameda’s bridges and tunnels all go down. Airboats and other water-based emergency services are on hand in the event of citywide emergencies, he said, though he noted that Alameda hasn’t seen any since the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989.
Haun and other city employees met with the Water Emergency Transportation Authority on Friday to discuss their partnership, roles and emergency procedures. Alameda’s ferry service started after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which knocked down a portion of the Bay Bridge, and the regional authority was created to help grow the region’s ferry network in order to be prepared for when the next Big One hits.
“I think we’ve got it covered,” he said.