Choke Point

by Kieran Healy on April 29, 2007

SF map


(04-29) 11:49 PDT OAKLAND — A huge ball of fire from an exploding gasoline tanker truck caused an overpass in the MacArthur Maze in the East Bay near the Bay Bridge to collapse on top of the highway below early Sunday, virtually ensuring major traffic problems and confusion for weeks to come. The intense heat crumbled the elevated roadway that carried eastbound traffic from the Bay Bridge onto Interstates 580 and 980 and state Highway 24. The broken concrete fell like a blanket over the connector roadway from southbound Interstate 80 to I-880.

Good luck with that commute tomorrow.

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Tim Worstall
04.30.07 at 10:58 am



Drew 04.29.07 at 7:58 pm

From the same story:

“Heat from the tanker explosion on the westbound 580 melted the upper roadway of the MacArthur Maze. The fire was intense enough to cause the tanker truck to basically melt away, according to crews on the scene.”

I thought that the well-known metallurgist and structural engineer, Rosie O’Donnell, told us that fire can’t melt steel. It’s never happened before in history. Well, I guess that there’s got to be a first (or second) time for everything.


ogged 04.29.07 at 8:10 pm

That’s a major interchange. Let’s hope the terrorists aren’t paying attention.

SFgate used google maps to show alternate routes; pretty cool.


Joel Turnipseed 04.29.07 at 9:09 pm

Wow. I’ve seen (and been in) some pretty good truck crashes in my day, but that’s unbelievable. It’s funny, though, how when you’re actually hauling hazardous/explosive materials, you don’t really register the fear–as it seems this guy didn’t, having blown up from hitting a guard rail while speeding.

Amazing that he was able to walk away from the scene in one piece…


r@d@r 04.29.07 at 9:19 pm

yikes – PTSD flashbacks of the collapse of the cypress street overpass in the loma prieta quake. did anybody get caught underneath??


Alan Bostick 04.29.07 at 9:31 pm

ogged #2: What I am hoping is that The Terrorists have never read and never will read Eric Frank Russell’s novel Wasp. Crashing a gasoline tanker truck at just the right place in a freeway interchange is the sort of thing James Mowry would have done.

r@d@r #4: Nobody besides the driver was injured.


e-tat 04.29.07 at 10:16 pm

Gosh, maybe the Feds should start thinking about protecting us from an evil international cartel determined to destroy life as we know it!

(You knew this was coming, and are only surprised that it took this long for some idiot to make such a remark.)


Mary Kay 04.29.07 at 10:27 pm

That is the main route from SF to anywhere in the East Bay. Traffic is *so* fucked you can’t believe it.

MKK–who used to live in the East Bay and used that interchange all the damn time


Quo Vadis 04.29.07 at 10:57 pm

It would be hard to imagine a worse place for this to happen and they say it will be a couple of months before it is open again. On the other hand we survived the 1989 bridge collapse which was an order of magnitude worse in terms of traffic impact I lived in SF and worked in Berkeley at the time.

Perhaps it will encourage commuters to explore other ways getting to work. Unlike most US metropolitan areas, we are blessed with an effective public transportation system and telecommuting is another option for many people today. I work much of the time from home these days and I love it.


Matt Austern 04.29.07 at 11:31 pm

If traffic hell only lasts “weeks”, we’ll be doing really well. It took a couple years to replace a 580/880 connector after the ’89 quake, no?

(And then there’s replacing the eastern span of the Bay Bridge, a project that’s coming up on its 20th anniversary. But that’s a special case. I hope.)


Jim Harrison 04.30.07 at 12:16 am

The ’94 Northridge earthquake in Southern California did a great deal of damage to several freeways. The Feds moved in with a huge amoung of help and restored the roads in a remarkably short period of time, thus preventing what could have been very serious economic consequences. That was during the Clinton administration, however, when competent men and women were running things. The current diaster, though on a much smaller scale, may take longer to remedy unless the State of California can manage everything by itself since the Federal government is currently broken.


Jay Conner 04.30.07 at 1:54 am

As I understand it, the section destroyed is the new structure built after the cypress overpass fell in the quake. I used to drive the San Rafael/San Leandro route weekly when I was in the homebrew business to access a wholesaler, going through the 580/Downtown Oakland section. When the new 880 section was opened, it made things simpler, and it was easier to get to the Oakland Airport…so now we have to go back to the route I used to use ?

No big deal.


luci 04.30.07 at 3:13 am

I used to live in Berkeley, and crossed the bay bridge daily. Thankfully I live in SF and have no need to cross anymore. I bet the BART (subway/rapid transit thingie) is gonna be packed.


elliottg 04.30.07 at 6:03 am

Free public transit tomorrow.


Jim Flannery 04.30.07 at 7:01 am

Jay #11:


The new 880 is what the collapsed freeway landed on. The collapsed freeway is 580. Both are out of commission.


Eszter 04.30.07 at 1:37 pm

Heard about this just before leaving Yosemite yesterday and thus avoided 580 altogether. I don’t envy the people commuting to Berkeley from Palo Alto and other parts around here.. and there seem to be quite a few such folks in the area.


Tom Hilton 04.30.07 at 3:39 pm

As I understand it, the section destroyed is the new structure built after the cypress overpass fell in the quake.

Yes, that’s the place.

I am so glad I live in San Francisco. I just have to suffer the torment of Muni. (Of course, even if I didn’t, I’d be taking BART. Not a lot of sympathy for the driving class, I’m afraid.)

btw, this reminds me of a pier fire (Piers 26-28) back in the mid-’80s. Traffic was stopped on the Bay Bridge from all the rubberneckers–and to be fair, it was really spectacular. I went by the piers about a week later, and the girders were draped like spaghetti.


Clayton 04.30.07 at 4:17 pm

That was one hell of an explosion, it melted steel, fucked traffic, and allowed someone to use ‘Crooked Timber’ and ‘Michelle Malkin’ in a single sentence.


pdf23ds 04.30.07 at 5:19 pm

I guess it would be inappropriate to link this.


C. L. Ball 04.30.07 at 6:12 pm

This is so obviously a plot by SF real estate agents.


David in NY 04.30.07 at 7:21 pm

This seems to happen with some regularity. Usually no bridge is involved, but sometimes there is one. In 2004 on I-95 in Connecticut. In Michigan on I-69 in Flint a couple of years ago. It makes one wonder if there should be a systematic safety review of tanker accidents.


Michael B Sullivan 05.01.07 at 12:54 am

Traffic was apparently fine, today, according to my coworkers (I stay firmly on the West side of the Bay in my daily commute, which I think of as a sort of Wester-Coast-Than-Thou approach). Rumor has it that it will be awful beginning tomorrow, as the theory is that today a bunch of people either stayed home or took transit, while tomorrow they’re brave the streets again.


W. Kiernan 05.01.07 at 1:23 am

At least it’s a relief to read that the driver didn’t die. Here in St. Petersburg (Florida) another tank truck driver with a load of diesel fuel crashed under the I-375 overpass just one month ago. Unlike the San Francisco driver he was killed, the fire reduced his truck to a bent frame and axles, and the burning load of diesel fuel also destroyed a part of the overpass under which his truck crashed. I was amazed to see that the overpass got fixed in only one month. The damage to the road was far less extensive than the mess in San Fransisco, though; they only had to replace one span between two pylons.


Valuethinker 05.01.07 at 2:01 pm

It’s worth reflecting on the hidden costs of a petrol-driven economy.

No one died in this, but the potential loss of life was huge.

When, in the future, you hear objections to the hydrogen economy like ‘too dangerous’, remember to ask yourself ‘compared to what?’


David Margolies 05.01.07 at 8:44 pm

“As I understand it, the section destroyed is the new structure built after the cypress overpass fell in the quake.”

No. The piece that fell down has been there for a long time. The piece it fell onto (the damage to which was not clear the last time I checked) was new freeway. The newer overpasses do not have exposed steel beams, as the one that collapsed did. I do not know what would have happened if the overpass was built to the new standard.

Now that things have settled, it is not so very bad. There are three ways to go when you come east on the Bay Bridge: 80 E to berkeley and Sacramento, 880 S to south Oakland and San Jose, and 580 E to north Oakland and on to Walnut Creek and Concord. It is the last that collapsed, onto the (new) connector from 880 to 80 E (i.e. from south oakland to berkeley). That last seems to be closed in both directions but it has an easy alternative and will likely be working again soonest.

Getting onto the bridge toward san francisco is not affected at all, as far as I can tell.

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