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Horns Toot, Motorists Cheer Reopening of Bay Bridge

November 18, 1989

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Motorists cheered, tooted their horns and raised victory signs as the Bay Bridge reopened exactly one month after an earthquake ruptured the main artery between Oakland and San Francisco.

″What a moment - you’ve just got to be here,″ said Roger McCune of Piedmont, among the first motorists to pay his $1 toll and head across the 53- year-old bridge at 11 p.m. Friday. ″It’s something we had to do.″

Six California Highway patrol cars and 13 Bay Bridge toll trucks, sirens wailing and lights flashing, led the first cars in a triumphant procession westbound across the empty upper deck to San Francisco.

Ever since the quake shut the 8.5-mile bridge - the world’s longest high- level span - Bay Area commuters have suffered through choking gridlocks on the bay’s four other bridge crossings.

The Bay Area Rapid Transit set ridership records as the huge disclocation drove workers by the thousands from their cars. The emergency also geared up ferry runs not seen for 30 years - ever since the bridges killed the ferries. Some groups have organized to try and keep the ferries going.

″I’m going to keep this forever,″ a laughing Darin Holzen of suburban Pinole said, waving his toll receipt. Many cars rolled by with occupants waggling V-victory signs out the windows or giving a thumbs-up.

The joyful scene was a stark contrast to the grim instant at 5:04 p.m. on Oct. 17, when a 7.1-magnitude quake centered 70 miles away jolted the area, killing 66 people and causing an estimated $7 billion in damage.

The temblor sent a 50-foot-long, 250-ton section of the upper deck crashing onto the lower deck, killing one woman in a car.

Technicians and engineers rushed to complete a $2.5 million repair job that ordinarily might be expected to take months instead of weeks. Included in the job was 18 months worth of scheduled maintenance that left the bridge sporting a shiny new coat of silver paint.

Especially pleased at the festive reopening was Sam Hassoun, a structural engineer with the California Department of Transportation who had been working on the bridge every day for a month.

″I’m more than happy,″ he said at the toll plaza, wearing his orange reflective vest and hard hat. ″Everything is A-OK.″

″It’s almost like a grand opening celebration,″ bridge toll captain John Sant said, surveying 17 operating toll lanes.

Although the bridge is back in the commute loop, workbound motorists aren’t going to have much of a picnic on Monday because important freeway connections on both sides of the bay are still knocked out. They include the collapsed portion of Interstate 880 in West Oakland, where the greatest number of quake victims perished.

″We had a traffic problem here even before the quake,″ said Bob Halligan, a spokesman for the transportation department. ″Now people will have to decide if they want to sit in their cars for hours on the Bay Bridge, or do they want to get to work?″

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