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Commuters face delays, detours between Lodi and San Francisco

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Posted: Monday, April 30, 2007 10:00 pm

If you travel between Lodi and San Francisco for work or play, your commute may be altered due to a collapsed freeway near the Bay Bridge.

Although Monday morning's commute was not as bad as expected, you should be prepared to take alternative routes or use mass transit.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency a day after a fire from a crashed gasoline tanker caused a section of eastern Bay Area freeway to collapse. Schwarzenegger authorized free transit Monday on the Bay Area Rapid Transit rail system, ferries and buses.

The fire closed the westbound I-80 connector to southbound I-880 and the eastbound I-80 connector to eastbound I-580.

The California Department of Transportation has the following recommendations for travel between Lodi and the Bay Area:

• If you are heading from Lodi to San Francisco on westbound I-580, you will not be affected. If you take Highway 24 into Oakland, which meets with westbound I-580, you will be fine. However, coming back, the eastbound I-580 connector is closed. Caltrans recommends taking the West Grand Avenue exit from the Bay Bridge to Northgate Avenue. Turn left on Northgate Avenue, which leads to the on ramp for Highway 24 and eastbound I-580.

• If you are traveling between San Francisco and Sacramento on I-80, you will not be affected. However, Caltrans expects delays due to increased congestion on all freeways in the so-called "MacArthur Maze" and is advising commuters to leave early or take public transit.

• If you are heading through the maze to the Oakland Airport or the south Bay Area on westbound I-80 to southbound I-880, you will need to use a detour. Caltrans recommends taking eastbound I-580 to westbound I-980 to southbound I-880.

On any weekday morning, traffic snarls on the approaches to the Bay Bridge, and Monday's jam did not appear worse than usual. More severe delays were expected in the afternoon, with traffic leaving the city being diverted away from the collapsed eastbound connector.

(Marc Lutz/News-Sentinel)

"The most worrisome thing is the afternoon commute coming out of San Francisco toward the maze," said Jeff Weiss, a spokesman for the California Department of Transportation, "because the traffic from the Bay Bridge fans out from across three freeways. Taking away two-thirds of the capacity is really going to cause a bottleneck."

Parking lots at outlying BART stations like El Cerrito and Pittsburg-Baypoint filled up earlier than usual as commuters tried to beat the rush they imagined was coming.

While some trains appeared more crowded than usual, Bay Area Rapid Transit officials said overall ridership did not appear greater than normal as the Monday morning rush hour got under way. Riders were likely delaying their morning commute to avoid crowds, or staying home, BART spokesman Jim Allison said.

"If you didn't know what the situation was, you might just assume it was any other day," Allison said.

State transportation officials said it could take months to repair the damaged interchanges, and advised motorists to use public transportation in and out of San Francisco.

"People are going to have to find a different way to work and back home in the evening, so we are asking them to plan ahead and do their homework," Weiss said. "This isn't going to be fixed in a matter of days."

The two spans, both 82 feet long, were damaged when flames from an overturned gasoline tanker caused part of one overpass to collapse onto another early Sunday morning. The driver suffered second-degree burns.

The crash occurred around 3:45 a.m. on the MacArthur Maze, a network of ramps and interchanges at the edge of downtown Oakland and about a half-mile from the Bay Bridge toll plaza. About 280,000 commuters take the Bay Bridge in and out of San Francisco each day.

California Department of Transportation director Will Kempton said intense heat from the flames caused the steel beams holding up the roadway to buckle and bolts holding the structure together to melt. The cost of repairs would likely run into the tens of millions of dollars, and the agency was seeking federal disaster aid, Kempton said.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said Sunday's fiery crash showed how vulnerable the Bay Area's transportation network is, whether to an earthquake or terrorist attack. Sunday's freeway collapse also has the potential to have a major economic effect on the city, he said.

"It's another giant wake up call," Newsom said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact reporter Matt Brown at mattb@lodinews.com.

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