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Hey, CalTrans: Just Open the Bay Bridge Already

It's not like it would be worse than the current span—even without the bolt fixes. We'll call it the Beta Bridge.

The latest volley in the back and forth about the opening date of the Eastern Span of the Bay Bridge came yesterday, when the Metropolitan Transit Committee made public a review letter from the Federal Highway Administration, saying that the FHWA was "impressed" with the "level of expertise" by which the Oversight Committee had crafted two fixes to the Bridge's cracked bolts. The FHWA went on to say that it "saw no reason to delay the opening prior to [...] the retrofit being completed." So, pending an announcement from the MTC during its Thursday meeting, the new Bridge could be open on Labor Day weekend after all.

But why not go one step further and open the Bridge tomorrow—or even today? After all, no transportation system is free from risk. Not Muni, not BART (which had a train stopped in the middle of the Transbay Tube this morning) and certainly not the current Eastern span of the Bridge. About the only one that's totally risk-free is the Hyperloop. And hell, you might get a computer virus when you download those plans.

The goal is not perfection here. The goal is replacing the terribly unsound old span—which was built in the 1930s and damaged in the 1989 quake—with something marginally less risky. The new span already passes that threshold by a wide margin. That's the argument that MTC spokesman Randy Rentschler made to the Examiner. How long would it take to put in those patches? According to Rentschler, less than a day. Let's get it over with already. Sure the project is over budget and late. What public work isn't?

This is a learning opportunity for the government to pick up some tips from Silicon Valley. Nobody expects the first version of a piece of software to be perfect. But you put out something that is better than the alternatives, collect feedback, and iterate from there. Let's call it the Beta Bridge.


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