When the MacArthur Maze opens up again on Friday, as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger promised, it will be one of those grin-and-grab ribbon-cutting events that political strategists live for.
But as a news story, the Great Maze Disaster has turned into the Medium Traffic Concern.
That says a lot about the response to the gasoline tanker fire that make such great video footage as it worked steel girders holding up the I-580 ramp like a glassblowing demonstration gone wrong.
Traffic mayhem did not ensue, however. Nor did months of waiting for a repair. All of this was good news for commuters, and, strangely enough, a pretty decent news story.
It was much better, of course, when it was “MAZE MELTDOWN!” But still, the fact that Caltrans and contractor CC Myers exceeded darn near everyone’s expectations made for a decent number of front-page stories.
But as I noted before, we aren’t really talking about that huge of a traffic volume. When people come off the bridge heading east, they have three choices of freeway. This was the one less traveled. Drivers detouring throught the streets of Oakland, Emeryville and Berkeley managed to spread that pain, thanks in no small part to Caltrans molding West Grand Avenue into a slow-moving expressway.
By the time Schwarzenegger announced the fix a month ahead of the June 27 deadline, the CEO of the contractor, C. (Clinton) C. Myers had kept the headlines coming with announcements that he’d be done by June 2, thus collecting the entire $200,000-a-day early completion bonus, capped at $5 million. Then again last Wednesday, he improved that prediction to a (regrettably competing) transportation reporter who was hanging out at the maze site at 10 p.m.
So by today, anyone who was paying attention knew that an official completion date was coming anyway, leaving all of us maze-watchers to scramble to come up with postmortem stories in time for Friday’s papers.
Some of my favorite ideas involve conspiracy theories about Caltrans designing the bid specifications just for C.C. Myers. A milder version has Caltrans setting a ridiculously pessimistic deadline so it can come out looking efficient no matter how many snafus crop up.
I’m always ready to embrace a good story that fairly and accurately exposes governmental incompetence. Luckily for us bottom-feeding journalists, there’s no shortage of those.
But it seems that this time, the government did what it was supposed to, and did it so well that it fits the definition of news.
Photo by Photo Director Nick Lammers, Oakland Tribune.