Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Tale of two bridges

In southern France, the world's tallest bridge is awe-inspiring.

Already, as many as 500,000 visitors have come to stare at this wonder of the world from panoramic sites in the mountains, created by order of the city council.

(That's one powerful city council.)

In San Francisco, the proposed new eastern span of the Bay Bridge, a suspension bridge, which, while not the Golden Gate, seemed pretty nice, looks to be abandoned in favor of a simple causeway or skyway, a plan that when it was proposed the first time was called "a freeway on stilts," "an insult to the East Bay residents and commuters." The fault lines of California politics are clearly drawn:

In August, [Business, Transporation and Housing Secretary] McPeak and Caltrans told the Bay Area to drop the elegant, unique and vastly over-budget self-anchored suspension bridge and to pay for the overruns with $4 bridge tolls. The move angered Bay Area lawmakers and led to a stalemate as the session ended.

On Friday McPeak told lawmakers again that the administration still considers the Bay Bridge a Gray Davis legacy headache and is committed only to paying to demolish the existing 1936 span, which carries 282,000 cars a day.

The new thinking was based on a series of secret meetings of advisory panels involving industry leaders and federal highway officials from five states.

"All options have risks," McPeak told them. "The self-anchored suspension tower is clearly the most complex technology."

She announced that the skyway is the way "to build a safe bridge in an acceptable period of time for the most reasonable cost."

Her assertion is a matter of debate.

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