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don’t stick a fork in it just yet

By enelson
Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008 at 1:52 pm in Bay Bridge.


In one of those happy accidents that can only happen to the easily distracted, I found a blog dedicated to pointing out the most expensive whatever.

I had received a Google alert (I haven’t started my Google boycott just yet; it’s just so darned useful) that fond a mention of the Bay Bridge in It was a photo of fireworks with the Bay Bridge just visible, and it referred to the bridge as the James “Sunny Jim” Rolph Bay Bridge.

I was sure I had heard the name in passing, but was disturbed that if this was the official name of the bridge, I should know more about it. So I did a bit of searching and found out that Sunny Jim was Mayor of San Francisco, Depression-era leader of the Golden State and was also known as “Governor Lynch” for his praise of a San Jose mob that dispatched a couple of kidnapping suspects. I learned that he died two years before the bridge opened in 1936 and was reminded that there was a time in this country that such a naming was a memorial, not a lifetime achievement award.

Anyway, one of the search results was a Dec. 27 blog post on, which chronicles anything that fits the name of the blog, including such things as an $880 pair of microscopic dice and a $32,000 astronaut-headed PEZ dispenser (Did you know that “PEZ” derives from Pfefferminze, the German word for peppermint? I need to get out more.).

This latest post was on our favorite bridge, which reached a major milestone at the dawn of 2008, as reported by yours truly, and “didn’t become the most expensive bridge in the world until recently”:

The Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, a 15 second quake that measured 6.9 on the moment magnitude scale and, coincidentally, the most expensive natural disaster in the US at the time, collapsed a section of the Bay Bridge and caused serious concerns over the bridge’s safety in the event of another major quake.

A series of controversies, ranging from whether to retrofit or entirely replace the offending section of the bridge to whether funding for the project should come from the Bay Area or the entire State of California, delayed construction on the bridge. Finally, it was decided that the Eastern span of the bridge would be replaced and the project would be funded in part by a toll increase from $3.00 to $4.00. As approximately 280,000 cars cross the bridge per day, this is a rather significant source of funding for the project.

Construction of the replacement span began in January of 2002. The project will cost an estimated 6.3 billion dollars, making it second only to Boston’s Big Dig as the most expensive public works project in the US, and is scheduled to be completed in 2012.

The information is a bit outdated, but it’s not easy to keep up with cost increases. Seems like every time I think I know what it’s costing, it goes up another $.1 billion. You have to measure these big public works projects tenths of a billion dollars or the extra zeros clutter up the paper, and newsprint is expensive!

But I will have to defend our bridge here. The bridge as it  now stands and carries cars, goods and people between the East Bay and the City by the Bay is NOT the world’s most expensive bridge.

I don’t have time to find out which one actually is, but that current Bay Bridge cost $1.75 billion in today’s dollars (which are worth more than 1936 dollars, but somewhat less than 2001 dollars). The world’s largest suspension bridge, Japan’s 6,532-foot-center-span Akashi-Kaikyō Bridge, cost $3.6 billion, according to

Now the replacement Bay Bridge East Span will certainly cost more than that, when the final bill is dropped on the taxpayers’ table. The current projection from the Bay Area Toll Authority is approaching $5.7 billion. I’m sure the $6.3 billion figure comes from the entire Bay Bridge retrofit program, which is now projected to cost about 6.4 billion and includes the completed retrofit of the West Span, that double suspension bridge that connects Yerba Buena Island with San Francisco, and the reconstruction of the West Approach, which connects the west span with the city.

But the West Span retrofit, completed in 2004, is not a new bridge, so I don’t think that counts. It’s basically a repair or upgrade, while the East Span is a new bridge entirely. The West Approach is a whole new structure, too, but its more of a freeway interchange than it is a bridge.

And the East Span Replacement Project isn’t a bridge yet, so it can’t be counted. It is expected to half-open in 2012, with the eastbound side opening in 2013.

By then, who knows what its final cost will be, and who knows what other bridges with astronomic price tags will have opened. If you know, or know who knows, please let me know.

If we were to rank-order ongoing bridge projects, I’m sure ours would be pretty high on the list, maybe at the top. But I haven’t seen such a list, and I challenge anyone who reads this to provide a link to such a list below.

Staff photo by Laura Oda.

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2 Responses to “don’t stick a fork in it just yet”

  1. Reedman Says:

    “A billion here, a billion there, sooner or later it adds up to real money”
    — Everett Dirksen

  2. david vartanoff Says:

    just my opinions without putting the rails back it is all a waste. but, hey if we can outspend Boston…

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