Back in January, an important but rather obscure committee of state and regional transportation officials approved a Caltrans plan to turn four of the support piers from the Bay Bridge’s old eastern span into a pair of public parks.
The Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee imposed one rather important condition on its approval: The budget for the project, which involves some demolition along with the anticipated construction, was limited to $52 million.
Caltrans, along with officials from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and agencies on both sides of the bay, see the massive relics of the now-vanished span as a once-in-a-century opportunity to give the public access to areas just offshore of Oakland and Yerba Buena Island. The new parks would be great vantage points for taking in the workings of the Port of Oakland, for instance, and marveling at the $6.5 billion splendor of the new eastern span.
On Monday in San Francisco, Caltrans' chief bridge engineer Brian Maroney reported to the three-member oversight committee that the agency is ready to proceed with a slightly scaled-back version of the agency's original vision for the waterfront parks.
To manage all the work in the project for $52 million -- to implode two of the half-dozen remaining piers, build a 600-foot walkway over the bay on three of the remaining piers near the Oakland shore and construct a massive viewing platform on a pier adjacent to Yerba Buena Island -- Maroney said a team of architects, engineers and contractors had to revise some of their more ambitious plans.
"After we went out and got bids, we were closer to 60 (million dollars) than we were to 52," Maroney told the panel. "About two weeks ago, we had one of those 'come to Jesus' meetings, where everybody got together, and it was really tough. ... I made it clear I wasn't coming back here and asking for any more money."
To get under the budget and include a 10 percent contingency -- a cushion for unforeseen expenses -- Maroney said the team identified eliminated some details of the original plan. For instance, a large parking lot and paved walkway leading to the Yerba Buena Island viewing platform was removed from the project and replaced by a simple crushed-gravel walkway.
And although electrical connections will be provided for both the Oakland and Yerba Buena parks, no lighting will be installed. That's in part because the agencies that will manage the sites -- the East Bay Regional Park District and the Treasure Island Development Authority -- don't want them to be open at night.
"We identified items that if taken out, somebody in the future could put back in if they wanted," Maroney said. "That was painful."
Maroney also said the general contractor on the job, Kiewit/Manson, had agreed to forego $2 million in their normal overhead and markup charges. "They took a bite of the sandwich, too," Maroney said.
Maroney added that Caltrans feels it's essential to start moving on the project immediately. The price of steel needed for the project has been changing rapidly because of the Trump administration's threats of tariffs against Chinese steel.
A Caltrans contractor told the agency last week that "when they were getting quotes, they were literally getting quotes that only lasted for one hour."
More important, Maroney said the project has not yet obtained environmental approvals from the host of federal and state agencies, including the Bay Conservation and Development Commission and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, that will need to sign off.
"We do not have any permits to build this work," Maroney told the committee, adding that delays in approvals could threaten the Caltrans timeline to finish its in-water construction work by the end of the year.
But he said he was encouraged by recent meetings the agencies that permits could be expedited "and we are asking, respectfully, to do things a little faster."
The committee unanimously granted Caltrans permission to sign contracts to proceed. If the agency's timeline holds up, the new shoreline park facilities could open to the public in about a year.
On the Oakland shoreline, the new recreational pier would tie into a new shoreline park planned by the East Bay park district. Development of that site, on land immediately south of the Bay Bridge that was once part of the Oakland Army Base, is being held up by the need to clean up contaminants on the property.