- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 1, 2007

OAKLAND (AP) Bay Area commuters skirted the wreckage of a collapsed section of freeway yesterday as crews began hauling away the charred debris that had been a vital link between San Francisco and its eastern suburbs.

The snarled highways envisioned for the region didn’t materialize yesterday morning, as many commuters seized on free public transportation, avoided rush hour or stayed home. Officials worried that the afternoon drive would create bigger problems as traffic leaving San Francisco was diverted away from the collapsed eastbound segment.

“The traffic from the Bay Bridge fans out from across three freeways,” said Jeff Weiss, a spokesman for the California Department of Transportation. “Taking away two-thirds of the capacity is really going to cause a bottleneck.”

The elevated section of highway that carries motorists from the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge to several freeways was destroyed early Sunday when the heat of a burning gasoline tanker truck weakened part of one overpass, crumpling it onto another.

The truck’s driver walked away with only second-degree burns; no other injuries were reported.

Many commuters avoided peak hour congestion by getting a head start or leaving later than usual, said Bay Area Rapid Transit spokesman Jim Allison.

“I did make a little effort to get here a little earlier today because of the freeway melting, or whatever you want to call it,” Mark Griffey, who took a BART train into the city, told KTVU-TV.

“I’m mad,” said Crystal McSwain, who switched from a bus to a more expensive BART train to avoid the roads. “My life is upside down, and I don’t know how long it’s going to take.”

To encourage motorists to switch to public transit, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger authorized free passage on ferries, buses and the BART rail system. Extra trains were added and bus and ferry operators also expanded service. Nearly 75,000 vehicles used the damaged portion of the road every day.

Inspectors X-rayed about a dozen pillars supporting the ramp near the collapsed section to determine whether they could be salvaged, Mr. Weiss said.

“Until all the data has been collected, we can’t move forward with the design,” he said.

State officials promised to move swiftly, and observers said the span could be rebuilt in a matter of months.

The investigation was still under way, but California Highway Patrol investigators think driver James Mosqueda, 51, may have been speeding. Drugs or alcohol are not suspected, Officer Les Bishop said.

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