Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Freeway Fixes

Last Sunday, the 580 freeway melted onto the 880. I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures, heard the sensational coverage, etc., so I’m not going to recap. If you are hearing this for the first time, Google is your friend.

I’d like to comment upon some oft-overlooked points regarding the Golden State.

As I watched New Orleans partly wash away, I remember clearly spending several hours screaming at my television, because there were so many things that needed to be done, that weren’t. There was no leadership on the ground for more than three days. Part of what made that such a fiasco is that nobody in power bothered to show up.

When the freeway melted, the worst that happened was that the burned, shocky driver had to walk to within three blocks of my house (over a mile from the accident) to find a gas station and a cabby to get him to the hospital. Much has been made of West Oaklanders not picking him up when he tried to flag them down.

Umm, dudes, it’s farking WEST OAKLAND. What isn’t a warehouse or an abandoned factory, is some of the worst housing in Oakland. Additionally, one pretty much doesn’t want to pick up a weird-acting stranger who is gesturing wildly at one’s car at 4:00am on a Sunday morning. Heck, I’ve gotten to the point where I usually don’t make eye contact with men in general, because they are most likely to take that as an invitation to ask me for A: money, B: my marital status, or C: both. .

When the broken freeway was brought to my attention, my first thought was that the government needed to announce additional trains/buses/ferries to handle the increased mass transit use Monday morning. By 4:00pm Sunday, exactly that had been announced by several news stations.

I had worried they wouldn’t add any ferries, either due to overlooking them or because there simply wasn’t any expansion capacity. Realize that the ferry system in the Bay Area is not a legacy system like the cable car network. Commuter ferries were a response to Loma Prieta (1989), when the government at the time realized that the Bay Bridge wasn’t going to be immediately fixable, and the increased traffic on the remaining commuter routes were straining roads and drivers to the breaking point.

Secondly, I thought we should declare a state of emergency and start trying to get federal funds to assist in the rebuild. Again, by 4:00pm Sunday, exactly that had happened.

I also thought that rather than the incredibly confusing maps most TV networks were using, someone needed to use a dash-mounted camera to drive through the detours and let drivers know what they’d see in the morning. CBS News was right on that, giving driver views of the mess by about 3pm.

I wanted to see the governor, and possibly the mayor of Oakland to give some facetime to this issue. Imagine my surprise when finding out that due to the Democratic Convention in San Diego, the mayors of both Oakland and SF and the Governator were all down at the site by 10pm Sunday, looking solemn. Nobody managed to get Mayor Hairdo (Newsom) to put on a hard hat, though.

At that point, Arnie also announced that Monday would be a fare-free day on most transit venues Baywide. The only better version of that would have been a week of free fares, but we can’t have everything.

Demolition on the span had begun by sundown Sunday, and finished up by end of day Tuesday. Negotiations on steel purchases have begun and seem to be going well. The hastily reassigned contractors took steel and concrete samples of both bridges on Tuesday, and as soon as we know how much work needs done to the 880 (the lower span) we’ll have a much better idea of how long the 580 rebuild will take.

Basically, in the space of 18 hours, the governing bodies of the two cities/counties, and of California in general, had addressed every one of my initial concerns. I can’t express how proud that makes me of California. We have messes and waste, and pork, and wackiness, but when important stuff needs to happen, we suck it up, and make the improbable happen faster than most states can imagine.

Is anyone in Louisiana’s government taking notes?


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