What a difference a weekend makes. Who said Caltrans was risk-averse? They daren’t say it to Will Kempton’s face tomorrow at 5 p.m., or maybe 4 p.m., to quote contractor C.C. Myers, the “patron saint of Bay Area Commuters.”
After being on my feet for 10 hours watching and listening to the demolition of the Yerba Buena Island Viaduct and having to file an unsatisfying story saying that job had gotten slightly bogged down, I had to stay for a few more hours to see if something else was going to happen.
It really wansn’t as spontaneous as all that, to be honest. I had my sleeping bag and pillow in the back of the family Toyota, and was looking for a chance to hop a Caltrans shuttle across the closed and severed East Span of the Bay Bridge and drive around the Bay and back onto Yerba Buena Island to take a nap and maybe wake up in time to see the main event unfold in the wee hours of this morning.
There were several false starts, with me believing at one point that the new 6,700-ton earthquake-ready slab might start literally rolling into place at 4 p.m. At 5 p.m., I learned the time might be 8 p.m. Then it looked like 10 — on schedule again.
But then it really did begin, at 11:45 p.m., long after I could get an actual story onto the web (I hope we’ll be putting something up at 8 a.m. today). But what was billed as five hours of prep work and five hours of actual move morphed from “you won’t even see it move” to “OMG, it’s moving!”
It would move, slowly but perceptibly, then stop for several minutes for the 16 humongous red rolling jack assemblies to ratchet over to the next cog on the track. When I and my journalist colleagues, Caltrans employees, police, transportation officials and assorted hangers-on weren’t actually watching the thing move, we were breathlessly anticipating when it would start moving again.
One Caltrans official remarked that here was a 6,700-ton slab of concrete sliding between two equally intimidating slabs of concrete with 3 inches of clearance on each end did so with nary a sound. No scrapes, no grinds, no errors.
In two hours and three minutes, it had arrived to within an inch of where they would lower it into position. C.C. Myers people walked calmly onto the viaduct, took measurements and fussed over where, exactly the bridge section needed to remain.
But the hard part was done, and something few people could imagine moving so smoothly had moved. If you’d wanted to drive your car across that viaduct, you could have, with a bit of a bump at either end.
Right now, they’re probably pouring the concrete to fill those gaps, just like they bridge Caltrans’ credibility gap for the next time somebody needs something done in three days so as not to inconvenience commuters.