The Bay Area's newest bridge, which resembles the world-famous Golden Gate, is poised to make its debut next month.
The first suspension bridge built in the country since 1973, it will open Nov. 16 to replace the westbound Carquinez Bridge and will have a new name: the Alfred Zampa Memorial Bridge, after an ironworker who survived a fall from the Golden Gate Bridge during its construction. He helped build the old Carquinez bridges, and the Bay Bridge.
The span being replaced was built in 1927; it crosses the Carquinez Straits on Interstate 80 between the communities of Crockett and Vallejo.
A handsome reddish and gray structure, with two 400-foot towers, the 3,400-foot-long bridge was rebuilt as part of a seismic upgrading project.
"We analyzed the original bridge after the  Northridge earthquake and decided to go ahead and replace it," said Bart Ney, spokesman for Caltrans.
When it opens, the bridge will be fully paid for, Ney said.
State transportation agency officials were looking to replace the bridge as well as other structures as far back as 1988, he said. Toll increases on Bay Area bridges at that time brought in new revenue that paid for the $500-million replacement, which includes an interchange, as well as other projects.
As many as 140,000 drivers cross the bridge and a companion structure, which carries traffic in the other direction, each day. The new bridge has been expanded with four 12-foot-wide lanes, one for carpools. In addition, a bicycle and pedestrian lane has been added on the west side. There also are two 10-foot shoulders.
A day before the official opening, the community plans to celebrate the completion of construction with fireworks and a parade.
The new bridge's resemblance to the Golden Gate Bridge is unmistakable.
"We're the younger sister of the Golden Gate," Ney said. "Ours, in a way, is more elegant."
That's because, he says, looking from the side, "you see a solid line. There's no truss work underneath."
Not so for the Golden Gate Bridge, which was completed in 1937.
But Ney tempered his critique, saying, "The Golden Gate Bridge is gorgeous. It's an international icon. Our bridge is a very elegant, simple suspension bridge."
There are other differences as well.
The Zampa Memorial Bridge is mostly red; the Golden Gate Bridge is orange.
The decision for choosing the color wasn't made lightly.
"We had a three-year public process to decide," Ney said. Red "worked the best in the environment and the community liked it."
The towers of the Zampa Memorial Bridge are gray concrete, unlike the Golden Gate Bridge's steel towers, which are painted orange. The steel-reinforced concrete towers will require less maintenance because they won't need to be repainted, Ney said.
This is the first time concrete has been used instead of steel for bridge towers in the United States, he added. The towers themselves are hollow -- the space inside one side contains an elevator; the other side has a staircase, which will provide access for maintenance workers.
The new bridge also will feature touches from its two larger sister bridges.
"Our architect married the lighting from the Golden Gate and Bay Bridge -- the necklace lighting like the Bay Bridge and tower lighting like the Golden Gate Bridge," Ney said.