Bay Bridge Babylon

Tuesday, December 15, 2009
The new span of the Bay Bridge in progress. Photo by jitze on Flickr

The new Bay Bridge in progress. Photo by jitze/Flickr

Launching last Tuesday, Dave Eggers’ one-time-only Panorama newspaper celebrated the good old days of  investigative journalism with a muckraking piece on the Bay Bridge. Its “above-the-fold” piece, “Unparalleled Bridge, Unparalleled Cost” (which, unlike the rest of the issue, is available online), is a massive 22,000-word exploration into the bureaucratic issues that have caused the new Bay Bridge to be delayed for years and go from an original estimate of $1.8 billion to a final cost around $12 billion. The scandal promised turns out to be a bit less dramatic: much of the price increase will come from paying the interest off the expected $6.3 billion price tag, which is something that Californians expect after all the bond initiatives we’ve been through. There’s a forest of procedural details, which makes it hard to spot the trees, but one point that does come across is that architectural ambitions to best the Golden Gate Bridge with a “self-anchored suspension bridge” for the eastern span was partly responsible for the holdup. What you don’t get from this particular article is a sense of what is so great about this design: if it will truly be architecturally spectacular, or more of an engineering feat of strength–a case of bridge boasting rights.

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