|Benicia-Martinez Bridge. Courtesy of MTC/Caltrans.|
Throughout the 20th century, as the Bay Area changed fundamentally from a concentrated urban area to a region consisting predominantly of dispersed suburban development, once-innocent country roads became today’s roaring interstates, ever widened to accommodate (and induce additional) far-flung car trips. That, in a nutshell, is the story of the Benicia-Martinez Bridge, the stretch of Interstate 680 connecting Contra Costa and Solano counties across the Carquinez Strait. Before 1930, there were the ferries. By 1930, Southern Pacific completed its rail bridge — which, now Union Pacific’s rail bridge, carries Amtrak and freight traffic. Ferries for cars were maintained only until September 1962, when the $25 million, 1.2-mile automotive span was completed, built with four lanes to accommodate both traffic directions. In 1991, the car bridge was widened by ten feet to fit in six total lanes.
Then, in August 2007, an entirely new automotive span opened, complete with “FasTrak Express” open-road tolling lanes. The 2007 span was constructed at a cost significantly higher than in 1962: at about $1.26 billion for 1.7 miles, the bridge was delivered several years late, at quadruple the anticipated cost. (Delays and serious cost overruns are not, it turns out, limited to just the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge!) And just this month, the reconfiguration (PDF) of the southbound span was completed, so we now have a total of nine car lanes: five northbound on lanes on the 2007 span and four southbound lanes on the retrofitted 1962 span, including a comfortable shoulder and merging lanes from I-680 and I-780.
Why not go for the “gold” with ten car lanes, you ask? The saving grace of all this bridge-widening is the new bicycle/pedestrian path (PDF diagram) that will open August 29, 2009, on the western edge of the southbound span. The path will link Park Road in Benicia to Mococo Road in Martinez.
The primary sticking point is the abrupt southern terminus of the bike-ped path, which will force pedestrians and bicyclists to contend with potentially unsafe, narrow passage in an inhospitable industrial area. The goal here is to finish a complete path of substantial width across the tracks that separate Mococo Road from Marina Vista Avenue, to ensure that users of the bike-ped path can get on and off the bridge in a way that maximizes safety, despite the somewhat challenging terrain (to get your bearings, see this Google satellite map). BCDC granted Caltrans the permits to do just that, but Caltrans ran into delays in acquiring the necessary right-of-way. A completed path, however, will be beneficial, to allow a safe bike-ped connection from the bridge to Marina Vista Avenue — a street that has bicycle lanes and is the natural link to downtown Martinez and the Amtrak station.
The new lane across the Benicia-Martinez Bridge is included in our Regional Bicycle Plan, which envisions a 2,140-mile regional bike lane network at buildout. The single most expensive component of that plan — a bike-ped connection on the Bay Bridge’s west span, which would link to the path on the new east span to complete the transbay link — remains out of reach, as do similar connections envisioned for the San Mateo and Richmond-San Rafael spans. But the Benicia link is now all but complete, closing gaps in both the San Francisco Bay Trail and the Bay Area Ridge Trail.