Bay Bridge set for Monday night debut

Work has gone so smoothly on its eastern span that the Bay Bridge will be opening sooner than expected.

Cal Trans director Malcolm Dougherty said Monday afternoon the bridge will open “tonight.”

Dougherty made the the announcement near the end of his speech that was part of long string of speeches during a dedication ceremony attended by local political leaders and dignitaries, including Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, San Francisco Mayor Ed Ell, other politicians and transportation officials.

Dougherty would not say exactly what time the bridge would be open, saying:

“We will open this bridge tonight. Well ahead of 5 a.m.”

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom was the last of the speakers, and was on hand to cut a ceremonial chain for the new bridge.

An earlier opening for the bridge had been rumored all day, but was confirmed only when Dougherty made the announcement.  It’s believed he would not provide a specific time to prevent masses of drivers — wanting to be among the first to cross the span — from flocking to the bridge at the opening time.

The California Highway Patrol has warned that officers would ticket drivers who stop on the side of Interstate 80 waiting for the bridge to open. Officers would also be ticketing drivers who stop to take pictures on the new bridge.

The bridge — after being closed since Wednesday night — was scheduled to open again Tuesday at 5 a.m. Crews have worked worked on a series of projects to get the bridge ready for traffic, including grading, striping, installing barrier rails, and putting up signs.

Caltrans crews also took advantage of the rare closure to take care of some cleanup and maintenance work — such as replacing the tunnel lights with LEDs and lubricating the expansion joints — work that usually takes months to complete when the 77-year-old bridge is open.

The closure of the span caused massive traffic jams during the Thursday and Friday commutes, as well as traffic delays throughout the weekend.

Many commuters with no other way to bet across The Bay turned to BART. The agency reported on Thursday it carried 475,015 passengers — its third highest daily ridership day.  On Friday, 457,018 passengers rode BART trains — BART’s fourth busiest day.