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  • Stephanie Taylor

    ‘At the Edge,’ Acrylic and pencil on vellum.

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    The gap Acrylic and pencil on velum

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    The self-anchoring suspension superstructure Acrylic and pencil on velum

California Sketches: Bridging east and west, old and new

Published: Sunday, Jul. 31, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 1E
Last Modified: Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014 - 8:39 pm

Poised at the edge of the new Bay Bridge, 150 feet above water, I stand suspended on a temporary platform – awestruck. Looking west, across a 370-foot gap, another section emerges from Yerba Buena Island. Like the Transcontinental Railroad that linked America, the new Bay Bridge construction materializes from opposite shores.

The two sides will expand until they're flawlessly joined.

We have come to visit. No, wait; visit is too small a word. We have come to experience this construction project by boat and from the new skyway deck by car. A Lilliputian is what I feel like as I drive up the new bridge, as if on a magic satin ribbon. Stopping just short of the gap, a vista stretches forever. Blessed with a clear, warm day, we see the Golden Gate, tiny ships, and tiny humans pursuing complex and miraculous tasks of building this seismically ingenious 21st century bridge. This view belonged to the denizens of the sky, and now it will belong to all who pass over this structure, whether it's by bike or car, or on foot.

Understanding the distinct segments of the project is critical to comprehending this monumental blending of form, function and innovations in materials and technology. First, from Oakland is the transition from Interstate 80 to the new skyway deck. Second, the skyway: 452 massive precast concrete spans ascending elegantly, six lanes side-by-side. From the water, the contrast of new bridge and old is extraordinary. The old Bay Bridge resembles a vulnerable, awkward, angular erector set, grey, dull and claustrophobic from the inside. The new is sleek, white, massive and curvaceously graceful. Even the birds have been thoughtfully provided for under the span, with cormorant condos.

The gap before me awaits the final installation of the most complex element of the bridge to design and build – the self-anchored suspension superstructure. A single tower penetrates 196 feet into the bedrock far below the surface of the bay, and rises through the deck, soaring 525 feet above water. The last segments will contain the anchorage for the suspension system, a massive milelong cable that rises from the east to the top of the tower, down to a curved structure at the west end where it loops around and soars back to the tower top, and then returns east, where it is buried into steel plates.

At night, the bridge will be illuminated, glowing white, an inspiration the architect drew from the Victorian roofs of San Francisco and the cranes at the Port of Oakland. From the boat, the temporary steel support systems are dramatic, a cacophony of rust-colored metal contrasting with the pristine planes of the supports and decking far above. The final segment is the transition from the new side-by-side decks to the existing upper and lower roadways of the Yerba Buena Tunnel.

From the heights of the skyway, we descended to Oakland, on a vast, empty, six-lane road. On the old Bay Bridge to our right, tiny toy vehicles rushed east and west.

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