BAY AREA QUAKE : For Commuters, Monday Is 1st Test


Bay Area residents preparing for Monday's return to the workaday world are faced with a battered, jerry-built transportation network that could coerce these Californians, at least, to do something that has been recommended for years: car-pooling.

With the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, sections of three major freeways and dozens of streets closed, drivers who shun car pools without good reason will be "committing an antisocial act," declared Rod Diridon, chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

In a press briefing Saturday at the San Francisco Ferry Terminal, state and local officials outlined a wide-ranging menu of transit options. Commuters who choose to drive alone, these officials agreed, will greatly worsen traffic on a reinvented transportation network relying on expanded service from ferries, BART, buses and shoe leather.

The temblor that struck at evening rush hour last Tuesday prompted thousands of business closures and kept tens of thousands of Bay Area commuters home the rest of the week. Traffic was thus tolerable in many areas.

But on Monday, bumper-to-bumper traffic jams are expected to stretch for miles and last for hours as commuters try to cope without the Bay Bridge and major sections of the Nimitz Freeway in Oakland and the Embarcadero and I-280 freeways in San Francisco.

The biggest problem, state officials say, will be rerouting Bay Bridge traffic. Under normal circumstances, it handles 243,000 vehicle crossings each day.

"We can't get any worse than where we are now. With the loss of the Bay Bridge, we're at the worst-case scenario possible," said Burch Bachtold, Caltrans district director. The bridge is expected to be closed for at least a month.

The officials, making no attempt to minimize the difficulties, said the steps being taken could significantly ease the anticipated congestion--provided commuters cooperate. And officials make no secret of their hope that the transportation changes forced by the quake will lead to a long-term shift toward greater use of mass transit.

Years after the Bay Bridge is repaired, many Bay Area commuters will still be coping with the quake's effects. Some experts have said that reconstruction of the collapsed Nimitz Freeway--the quake's biggest killer--will take at least five years. On Saturday, state transportation officials reported that the other double-decker highways weakened by the quake--the Embarcadero and I-280--may be damaged beyond repair.

"People are going to need to adjust their travel patterns or we're going to be saturated," said Mike Healy, BART's public affairs manager.

Key parts of the Bay Area's new transportation network:

* Ferry service--Commercial ferry service between East Bay and North Bay locations to San Francisco will be significantly expanded. The fares will remain relatively high, ranging from $4.40 to $6 round trip, depending on the route taken.

In the past, about 10,000 people rode the ferries daily; on Monday, expanded service will enable that figure to double, officials said. Four Catalina Cruises ferry boats sent from Long Beach will join the flotilla. Transit officials in both Washington state and Canada are offering to send more ferries.

The Navy and the Coast Guard--which already have been ferrying military and civil personnel to and from Treasure Island and Alameda Naval Air Station--also are ready to contribute to the water-transit program.

* BART--The Bay Area Rapid Transit system has expanded its parking facilities and added 50 cars for an expanded rush-hour schedule. On Tuesday, the system plans to expand to 24-hour operations for as long as the Bay Bridge remains closed.

The rail system, which weathered the quake with little disruption, served a record 250,000 passengers Friday--a figure a BART spokesmen predicted "will be a forerunner of what we'll be seeing next week."

BART officials say they can double their capacity for Monday's morning commute. The system normally handles about 28,000 commuters just on its cross-bay runs, Healy said.

BART officials said they realize some riders will shun the system because they are afraid of using BART's tunnel under the the bay. However, Healy said: "We did six years of seismic studies on it, and we have full confidence in it. We hope other people will, too."

* Buses: On both sides of the bay, officials have expanded bus service to accommodate ferry and BART riders on their way to work or home.

SamTrans, which operates on the San Francisco Peninsula, says it is prepared to handle an extra 10,000 riders Monday, on routes that cross the San Mateo Bridge and others that carry riders from south San Mateo County to BART stations in Daly City.

On Tuesday, the bus service will face another test as riders pile on to attend the long-delayed third game of the World Series.

"It's going to be a major test of the public transit system," said Aubrey Lumley, SamTrans' director of marketing. "At the same time, we feel we may win some converts to public transportation if we can come through during this."

* Bridges: Most Bay Area bridges will not collect tolls during the morning commute to expedite traffic. Most commuters diverted from the Bay Bridge are expected to use the Richmond-San Rafael, Golden Gate and San Mateo bridges.

Where the Golden Gate Bridge normally carries 129,000 to 132,000 vehicles daily, transportation officials expect that to increase to more than 160,000 cars Monday. "By Friday, we'll probably be up 30% or so," said Lt. Raymond McGill.

Even without tolls, McGill said, he expects the commute to take an extra 45 minutes to an hour for most drivers.

Capt. William Sam, toll captain of the San Mateo, Dumbarton and Richmond-San Rafael bridges, said traffic on the three bridges is expected to be at least twice as heavy as normal.

* Parking: Gridlock is expected in the parking lots of BART and the ferry services. Some overflow is expected to be handled at newly formed satellite parking lots near the eight East Bay train stations. Impromptu lots will be at the Oakland Coliseum and the Golden Gate Fields horse-racing track in Albany and other locations, providing more than 6,000 spaces.

Lily Eng reported from San Francisco and Scott Harris from Los Angeles.

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