IN MARCH 2013, the Bay Bridge in San Francisco lit up. Artist Leo Villarreal designed a massive installation that transformed the bridge stretching between Oakland and San Francisco into a canvas of shimmering lights. It was public art on a grand scale; like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, only bigger. Some numbers: 25,000 lights, 1.8 miles long, 500 feet high.
It twinkled for two years and then in March of 2015, the lights turned off. Now, just in time for the Super Bowl, the lights are coming back. Thanks to $4 million in funding, Illuminate the Arts commissioned Villarreal to design a new light show, which we can only assume will surpass the original in terms of ambition. They turn on tomorrow evening (Jan. 30), and this time, word is, they’re sticking around for good.
The bridge consists of two crossings, east and west of Yerba Buena Island, a natural mid-bay outcropping inside San Francisco city limits. The Western crossing (the Willie L. Brown Jr. Bridge) between Yerba Buena and downtown San Francisco has two complete suspension spans connected at a center anchorage. Rincon Hill is the western anchorage and touch-down for the San Francisco landing of the Brown bridge connected by three shorter truss spans. The eastern crossing, between Yerba Buena Island and Oakland, was a cantilever bridge with a double-tower span, five medium truss spans, and a 14-section truss causeway.
Due to earthquake concerns, the eastern crossing was replaced by a new crossing that opened on Labor Day 2013. On Yerba Buena Island, the double-decked crossing is a 321-foot (98 m) concrete viaduct east of the west span's cable anchorage, a 540-foot (160 m) tunnel through the island's rocky central hill, another 790.8-foot (241.0 m) concrete viaduct, and a longer curved high-level steel truss viaduct that spans the final 1,169.7 feet (356.5 m) to the cantilever bridge.
The toll plaza on the Oakland side (since 1969 for westbound traffic only) has eighteen toll lanes, of which six are FasTrak-only. Metering signals are about 1,000 feet (300 m) west of the toll plaza. Two full-time bus-only lanes bypass the toll booths and metering lights around the right (north) side of the toll plaza; other high occupancy vehicles can use these lanes during weekday morning and afternoon commute periods. The two far-left toll lanes are high-occupancy vehicle lanes during weekday commute periods. During the morning commute hours, traffic congestion on the Oakland approach stretches back to the three feeder highways, Interstate 580, Interstate 880, and Interstate 80toward Richmond, California. Since the number of lanes on the San Francisco approach is structurally restricted, backups are frequent in the eastbound direction during evening commute hours. The Willie Brown bridge portion of the bay bridge is currently restricted to motorizedfreeway traffic. Pedestrians, bicycles, and other non-freeway vehicles and devices are not allowed to cross this section. A project to add bicycle/pedestrian lanes to the western Brown span has been proposed but is not finalized. A California Department of Transportation(Caltrans) bicycle shuttle operates during peak commute hours for $1.00 each way.
Freeway ramps next to the tunnel provide access to Yerba Buena Island and Treasure Island. Because the toll plaza is on the Oakland side, the western span is a de facto non-tolled bridge; traffic between the island and the main part of San Francisco can freely cross back and forth. Those who only travel from Oakland to Yerba Buena Island, and not the entire length to the main part of San Francisco, must pay the full toll.