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Rebuilding an iconic Bay Area bridge

IN California's largest-ever infrastructure project, 67,000 tons of Shanghai steel will be used. When finished in 2013, the iconic San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge will symbolically "bridge" Shanghai and San Francisco's economic partnership in one of the most complex and expensive engineering projects in the history of the state.

Known locally as Bay Bridge it is divided into two parts. The West Span stretches from San Francisco to Yerba Buena Island and the East Span stretches from the island to Oakland. A seismic retrofit of the Western span of the bridge was commissioned after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in San Francisco. Though the bridge was not damaged in that quake which registered 6.9 on the Richter scale, decisions were made to completely rebuild the East Span to prevent possible disaster.

The westbound portion of the new bridge is expected to open in 2013. The eastbound portion will follow around a year after that.

Stretching 3.54 kilometers long, rebuilding of the East Span of the bridge is a "monumental challenge," Bart Ney tells Shanghai Daily. Ney is a spokesperson for Caltrans, California Department of Transportation.

"We are trying to create one of the world's most advanced earthquake-resistant structures while maintaining traffic on a 74-year-old bridge, one of the top three most heavily traveled bridges in the United States. The scale of the effort to build this bridge is difficult to imagine. We have some of the largest structures ever erected to build a bridge."

Featuring seismic innovation never before used, it will be the pinnacle of earthquake-resistant technology. Standing alongside its famous neighbor the Golden Gate Bridge - a popular tourist landmark °?- Ney thinks the project will give the Bay Bridge a new iconic status.

"When the bridge is finished the entire world will have a new engineering icon to marvel at. This project will forever change the look of the San Francisco Bay," Ney adds.

Since the end of December 2009, every other month two gigantic ships loaded with steel have been leaving China's shores for San Francisco. The steel is produced by Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industry Co - one of the biggest heavy-duty equipment manufacturers in the world.

Zhenhua was chosen by the official contractor for the bridge, American Bridge/Fluor Enterprises A Joint Venture. Stepping up to the plate for this difficult challenge, Zhenhua was chosen from many competing international firms.

"We were very excited to get this contract in 2006 as we faced a lot of competition. It's a big challenge and also a lot of responsibility. It represents a new horizon for future development for the company," says Wu Yun, deputy general manager of Zhenhua.

The Bay Bridge is currently the largest project they're working on.

With the next shipment of steel set to leave this month, the total shipment is due to be finished in another year and a half.

This is Zhenhua's biggest bridge project to date. They usually supply equipment and materials to international projects.

"The main challenge is that the steel has to be of the highest quality according to American standards. If we can do this then we can work on any bridge in the world," adds Wu.

The bridge carries over 280,000 vehicles per day and is a vital economic organ for the state of California. On the rare occasions the bridge has to be closed, four months of preparations are needed to prepare the region and the entire state for the traffic disruption. Therefore construction mostly has to be carried out in conjunction with traffic, closing only critical parts of the old bridge to be replaced, or building massive detours to keep traffic going.

When it is finished pedestrians and bicycles will be able to cross the bridge for the first time. Thought has also been given to the architecture of the bridge so that it is a beautiful new addition to San Francisco Bay.


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