I-280 reopens

On 29 April 1993, Interstate 280 between Mariposa Street and US 101 reopened, if in a somewhat limited capacity, following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake:

From the San Francisco Chronicle (30 April 1993):

Part of I- 280 Shut by Quake Finally Opens – One lane each way in link to downtown S.F.

Author: Clarence Johnson, Chronicle Staff Writer

Three and half years after the Loma Prieta earthquake, a closed section of Interstate 280 partially reopened yesterday, allowing a trickle of traffic to reach a downtown flank of San Francisco and points south.

Believing that a little something is better than nothing, jubilant California Department of Transportation officials announced the opening of one lane in each direction on the two-tier viaduct that was closed after being rattled by the October 1989 temblor.

Cars can now travel I- 280 in both directions from Daly City to the Sixth Street off-ramp. But motorists will still have to exit I- 280 and use city streets to reach Highway 101 South from San Francisco.

Still, there were smiles, handshakes and sighs of relief from Mayor Frank Jordan and state Senator Quentin Kopp, independent- San Francisco, who put on hard hats and helped highway engineers pull aside orange-and-white-striped barriers to let the traffic roll again.

“We feel we have made major inroads by now having at least two (lanes) open ,” Jordan said. He said the restored freeway may help merchants in Chinatown and North Beach who claim business has lagged since the quake. “This is a major artery. It’s a relief for me because I have literally gotten thousands of phone calls from people wanting to know what is the time line for reopening this,” the mayor said.

The partial opening represents completion of about one-third of the reconstruction job along the 1.6-mile stretch of freeway. The opening comes after numerous delays that put the $140 million project more than 16 months behind schedule.

Total reconstruction will require replacing 125 support columns, shoring up an unsteady foundation and rebuilding cracked joints.

Yesterday’s opening actually came a month ahead of the last scheduled deadline.

The hurried work pace was also attributed in part to Kopp, who pushed Caltrans for results.

“This is testimony to patience and courage and, I suppose, some political persistence,” said Kopp, who is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. “This is an enormous engineering accomplishment. But I have to say after I lost my patience, the director of Caltrans stepped in and personally made this one of his projects.”

Caltrans officials, smarting from criticism that they underestimated the damage and then set unrealistic timetables for the completion of work, were cautious yesterday when asked when the rest of the job will be done.

“We’re getting there,” said Caltrans district director Preston Kelley. “By the end of the year I hope to tell you when we’ll have additional traffic on this road. And when we give that date, we certainly hope we will be able to keep it.”

When fully functioning, the freeway runs three lanes in each direction, allowing about 95,000 cars daily into and out of the city. The two lanes opened yesterday will probably carry about 25,000 cars a day, transportation officials said.

“It’s definitely not the final solution but it’s a start,” said Caltrans spokesman Colin Jones. “The whole idea is not just to fix it but to strengthen it.”

Jones said the rebuilt portion would now endure an earthquake measuring up to 8.3 on the Richter scale. The 1989 quake measured 7.1.

Some damage along the double-deck I- 280 roadway resembles the Embarcadero Freeway, which was so badly damaged in the earthquake that it was torn down. Another look-alike freeway, the Cypress structure in Oakland, collapsed during the quake, killing 47 people.

I- 280 reportedly rocked so viciously during the quake that sections of the viaduct slammed into each other, cracking off pieces.

“Some columns actually fractured so you could see the reinforcing steel in places where the concrete had just disintegrated,” said project engineer Ken Bunker. “The damage was impressive.”

Initially, Caltrans engineers thought the freeway could be reopened within a few months after temporary repairs were made. The least-damaged section, between 25th and Sixth streets, reopened after a brief closure.

But a special review panel of engineers from the University of California at Berkeley and at San Diego recommended extensive repairs to guarantee that the freeway would survive a 8.3-magnitude earthquake, Jones said.

The reopening can come none too soon for Rob Rossi, owner of the Flower Market Restaurant at the foot of the freeway on Sixth Street. He said his and other businesses in the area have been flat since the freeway closed.

“Business has been steady, not growing by 10 to 15 percent like it should have been,” said Rossi. “This used to be my own private driveway. Coming from Daly City it took seven or eight minutes to get here. Now, if you miss-time it, it can take you an hour.

“It’s inadequate,” said Rossi referring to the two new open lanes. “It’s not what it should be. But I guess they want to get something rolling. There’s been a lot of lost trade.”

At the time, I was living South of Market and driving to work near Stonestown Galleria in the Sunset. I was ecstatic.