The Richmond-San Rafael Bridge was shut down twice Thursday during ongoing emergency safety inspections prompted by falling concrete chunks that crashed onto at least one vehicle and shut down the bridge spanning the northernmost portion of the San Francisco Bay.
As of 9 p.m. Thursday night, all lanes on the bridge were open. Caltrans workers installed metal plating on the bridge’s upper deck and completed emergency inspections, according to Caltrans spokesman Vince Jacala.
Sonoma resident Graham Edwards was the only person to reportedly suffer vehicle damage as a result of falling concrete, and his wife made the initial report to CHP about the danger on the bridge.
Edwards was driving his white Mercedes-Benz C300 across the bridge to the Oakland airport when he looked up and saw concrete chunks falling from the roof of the bridge. Edwards wasn’t sure whether to speed up or slow down to avoid the falling concrete, but he quickly tapped his brakes. An 8- or 9-inch chunk of concrete slammed into his car’s grill, damaging the front bumper.
“It was probably just that quick brake pump was what made the difference between it hitting my bumper and hitting my windshield,” he said. “For somebody who’s never actually been terrified in a car, I was pretty shaken.”
After determining his car had not suffered damage that required immediate attention, he continued on to the Oakland airport, only to discover his flight had been canceled, he said.
Edwards called his wife, who then reported the falling concrete to CHP at around 10:30 a.m., he said, and authorities closed the bridge nearly an hour later at 11:20 a.m.
CHP confirmed its first report of falling concrete came in at about 10:35 a.m. At about 2:45 p.m. one lane in each direction was briefly reopened, according to the CHP Marin Facebook page, but the bridge was closed again about 45 minutes later.
Officials again reopened one eastbound lane at about 4:30 p.m., and then all lanes in both directions shortly before 8 p.m.
A construction project is underway on the bridge, but it was too early to say whether that had caused the concrete chunks to fall, Jacala said during a mid-afternoon interview with reporters on the bridge.
“That’s part of our inspection so I don’t want to speculate,” Jacala said during the videotaped interview. “Obviously the bridge gets used a lot. There are heavy uses of the bridge, and just like anything if you use it a lot there’s a lot of wear and tear.”
Jake Mackenzie, chair of the Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission, said early reports from Caltrans suggested no major damage to the infrastructure.
“This is a vehicle safety problem in terms of pieces of concrete, and not part of the structural integrity of the bridge,” he said. “Caltrans is meeting its responsibility and should have a better idea of maintenance soon.”
The bridge serves roughly 82,000 vehicles a day compared to about 120,000 across the Golden Gate Bridge, according to Caltrans data.
A sergeant who arrived on the bridge shortly after the first reports of falling concrete confirmed chunks “as small as pebbles and as large as footballs” were falling from the top westbound span onto the lower eastbound lanes, CHP spokesman Officer Andrew Barclay said.
A total shutdown was ordered about 11:42 a.m., and officials began turning drivers back and clearing traffic from the bridge. The debris stopped falling once traffic was totally clear of the upper deck, allowing officers to funnel all westbound traffic around a small debris field and off the bridge, according to the officer.