Richmond-San Rafael Bridge needs even more repairs
- Published Sunday, January 4, 2008, by the Marin Independent Journal
Richmond-San Rafael Bridge needs more repairs
By Mark Prado
What would the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge be without a little problem?
The latest issue on the bad-luck bridge is cracking concrete around
In early October, a crack in concrete around an expansion joint
eventually became a foot-wide hole in the westbound direction of
the span, about a half-mile west of the toll plaza.
The California Department of Transportation has since determined it
needs to replace concrete around four of the 16 expansion joints to
ensure more holes won't appear. The interlocking joints allow the
bridge roadbed to expand and contract as the bridge moves and shifts.
The last of that overnight work to fix the problem is scheduled this
week, and some lane closures will occur to accommodate the work.
In all, the emergency deck work will cost taxpayers $600,000 on top
of the $778 million seismic upgrade finished in 2006.
"It was one of those things," said Bob Haus, Caltrans spokesman.
"The concrete was just not holding up."
While four expansion areas - two on the upper deck, two on the lower
deck - will be repaired, only one has failed so far, Haus said.
"These areas get a lot of movement, so we want to be prudent and fix
them now," he said. "This is minor work, it's not a major project."
There is no evidence poor workmanship caused the problems, said Haus,
who blamed the mechanics of the span for causing the stress that
weakened the concrete. Workers will reinforce the joints with stronger
There have been other joint problems with the span, which carries
about 70,000 vehicles daily.
After seismic work was finished in 2006, a metal joint slipped away
from the roadbed, creating a small gap in the lower deck of the span
and a major traffic backup.
Before the retrofit work, holes were almost a regular occurrence on
the span until the replacement of the trestle section on the Marin
side. Holes had opened there because of the roadway's close proximity
to the bay -- sea air had weakened the concrete.
The 52-year-old span has always been a bit of an oddball in the
aesthetic-minded Bay Area. Aesthetics were sacrificed for cost
savings as the bridge was designed. It paid off: The bridge came
in at a price of $58 million, $4 million under budget.
But there were design decisions made to keep costs in check. Rather
than spend the money to draw up and build two distinctively designed
cantilever sections, a single design was duplicated, including its
downward curve. To make the pieces fit, the downward slopes had to
meet, creating a "roller coaster" dip.
While the design did not affect function, it was not embraced by the
When the bridge opened on Sept. 1, 1956, local residents -- spoiled
by the architectural wonder of the Golden Gate Bridge -- complained
about the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge's "swaybacked" design.
Norman Raab, who designed the bridge, was frustrated by the
limitations placed on him and admitted he could have built a
"better looking" bridge if he had had a free hand in the design.
"A man who builds bridges these days does not have control over
anything he does," Raab grumbled in a June 1956 Independent Journal
Predictions of heavy use of the span have yet to materialize. Behind
the Dumbarton and Antioch bridges, it is the least used of the state's
Bay Area spans.
Contact Mark Prado via e-mail at mprado@...