SF Bay Area traffic nightmare (updated)

Thomas Lifson
Terrorists couldn't have picked a better spot. The San Francisco Bay Area faces months of horrible traffic disruption thanks to the explosion of a gasoline tanker truck at one of the worst spots imaginable, the so-called McArthur Maze where the Bay Bridge from San Francisco connects with three freeways taking traffic north, east and south.

The explosion and fire were so big that connector roadways were melted and collapsed onto other roadways. The San Francisco Chronicle coverage  describes what is known so far, and offers some dramatic pictures of the damage.

So far there is no mention of any possible terror connection, although somehow the truck driver managed to survive and take a taxi to a local hospital where he was admitted with burns. On its own, it strikes me as unlikely that this would be a terror attack. In any event, the timing in the early morning hours means that there were no casualties, something terrorists usually want.

People unfamiliar with Bay Area traffic probably will have a hard time understanding how profoundly this will alter the life and the economy of the area until repairs (sure to be very complex) can be finished. Water and mountains seriously constrain the construction of major highways, so there are very few of them relative to the population using them. Any detours of the substantial traffic going from the Bay Bridge to I-580 and I-880 (which are the affected routes) will quickly overwhelm the alternative routings, making travel times increase substantially. I have already had one appointment cancel on me today, even though the driver would go nowhere near the accident scene. The driver understands the freeway he would be taking will be jammed with traffic from the others. And it will be like this for months and months.

Update: Ed Waage writes,

This seems similar but lesser in magnitude to the problem when the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 destroyed the Cypress Street Viaduct (which connected the maze to I-880) and also collapsed one section of the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge. People rallied and managed to cope with the problem. Commuters formed car pools, took ferries, rode Bay Area Rapid Transit, and drove alternate routes or they just did not travel. The bridge was reopened in one month. The Cypress structure was not replaced for 8 years, but there was a decent alternate route.


Another earthquake in Southern California in 1994, the Northridge earthquake, caused the Santa Monica Freeway to shut down due to collapsed overpasses. The freeway, which was the busiest in the USA, was reopened in 66 days.


There are some lessons in political leadership here. George Deukmeijian was Governor during the Loma Prieta earthquake and Pete Wilson during the Northridge earthquake, both Republicans. Now Governor Schwarzenegger has a chance to show that he can cut through the red tape and expedite the job of reconstruction.

Update: Bookworm blogs:

Wasn't it Rosie who said that mere heat can't make large buildings collapse? I wonder how she, and her fellow travelers, will deal with the fact that mere heat made a major portion of an East Bay freeway collapse. It is, in some ways, 9/11 on an infinitely smaller and non-malevolent scale.

Update: Video of burning truck
here.
Terrorists couldn't have picked a better spot. The San Francisco Bay Area faces months of horrible traffic disruption thanks to the explosion of a gasoline tanker truck at one of the worst spots imaginable, the so-called McArthur Maze where the Bay Bridge from San Francisco connects with three freeways taking traffic north, east and south.

The explosion and fire were so big that connector roadways were melted and collapsed onto other roadways. The San Francisco Chronicle coverage  describes what is known so far, and offers some dramatic pictures of the damage.

So far there is no mention of any possible terror connection, although somehow the truck driver managed to survive and take a taxi to a local hospital where he was admitted with burns. On its own, it strikes me as unlikely that this would be a terror attack. In any event, the timing in the early morning hours means that there were no casualties, something terrorists usually want.

People unfamiliar with Bay Area traffic probably will have a hard time understanding how profoundly this will alter the life and the economy of the area until repairs (sure to be very complex) can be finished. Water and mountains seriously constrain the construction of major highways, so there are very few of them relative to the population using them. Any detours of the substantial traffic going from the Bay Bridge to I-580 and I-880 (which are the affected routes) will quickly overwhelm the alternative routings, making travel times increase substantially. I have already had one appointment cancel on me today, even though the driver would go nowhere near the accident scene. The driver understands the freeway he would be taking will be jammed with traffic from the others. And it will be like this for months and months.

Update: Ed Waage writes,

This seems similar but lesser in magnitude to the problem when the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 destroyed the Cypress Street Viaduct (which connected the maze to I-880) and also collapsed one section of the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge. People rallied and managed to cope with the problem. Commuters formed car pools, took ferries, rode Bay Area Rapid Transit, and drove alternate routes or they just did not travel. The bridge was reopened in one month. The Cypress structure was not replaced for 8 years, but there was a decent alternate route.


Another earthquake in Southern California in 1994, the Northridge earthquake, caused the Santa Monica Freeway to shut down due to collapsed overpasses. The freeway, which was the busiest in the USA, was reopened in 66 days.


There are some lessons in political leadership here. George Deukmeijian was Governor during the Loma Prieta earthquake and Pete Wilson during the Northridge earthquake, both Republicans. Now Governor Schwarzenegger has a chance to show that he can cut through the red tape and expedite the job of reconstruction.

Update: Bookworm blogs:

Wasn't it Rosie who said that mere heat can't make large buildings collapse? I wonder how she, and her fellow travelers, will deal with the fact that mere heat made a major portion of an East Bay freeway collapse. It is, in some ways, 9/11 on an infinitely smaller and non-malevolent scale.

Update: Video of burning truck
here.