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Which Bay Area Bridges Can Survive A Major Earthquake?

Updated: Sep 14, 2022 09:12
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Photo of the Golden Gate Bridge

Earthquakes are as much a part of Bay Area life as fog, hills and cable cars. But for some reason, other than learning about the wreckage of past quakes, the average Bay Area resident doesn’t spend much time discussing how a large earthquake would effect modern Bay Area infrastructure.

The Hayward Fault is among the most seismically active fault lines in the United States

To say the Bay Area is seismically active at this point would be redundant, but I don’t think people truly comprehend how seismically active the region is. The Hayward Fault is among the most seismically active fault lines in the United States, and is capable of producing a 7.0 magnitude quake.

The San Andreas fault, which nearly stretches along the entire California Coast, passes right through San Francisco and can reportedly produce an 8.3 magnitude earthquake. To put that into perspective, the 1906 quake, which killed over 3,000 people and left San Francisco appearing as if a bomb had gone off, was a magnitude 7.8 on the Richter scale.

Scary shit, right?

So, in the event of a major earthquake, could our bridges withstand it and still be usable?

“We know the bridge is failing.”

According to Richard Allen, head of the UC Berkeley Seismological Lab, the only Bay Area bridges that would be usable after a major earthquake are the Bay Bridge and the Benicia-Martinez bridge. The rest “might not be usable for some time after.

While Richard Allen thinks that all the bridges will remain standing, there are some indications that that might not be entirely true. For example, the Richmond-San Rafael bridge is already falling apart. There have been several news stories of concrete chipping off of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge and falling onto cars. If California experiences ‘the Big One’ any time soon, would the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge collapse? In an interview with ABC7 News, Assemblyman Marc Levine plainly stated “we know the bridge is failing.”

Most of California’s major fault lines are near the coast, which means, in the event of a larger quake, the least damaged area that would be best suited for evacuees would be inland. How would residents of Marin County or Sonoma County be able to properly evacuate to the Central Valley in a timely manner? The Richmond-San Rafael bridge is demonstrably in bad shape, and Highway 37, another poorly managed North Bay corridor, was severely damaged during the Napa quake in 2014. In a larger quake, the damage would likely be worse.

California is a wealthy state, and the Bay Area is the wealthiest part. Our infrastructure should reflect this. We’re the home of Silicon Valley. Why do we have bridges, especially important ones like the Richmond-San Rafael bridge, falling apart in front of our very eyes? These concerns aren’t just limited to the larger bridges, but to several smaller bridges across the region. Hundreds of smaller bridges and overpasses in the Bay Area have been deemed ‘structurally deficient’. Many of the bridges labeled as needing immediate repair have been on that list for 5 years or more.

Earthquakes are out of our control. We live in a region that sits on the Pacific Ocean, earthquakes are just a fact of life. But we can control how we prepare, and clearly, we’re not as prepared as we like to think. The Bay Bridge and the Benicia-Martinez Bridge may be quake ready, but that clearly isn’t enough. Caltrans does suffer from budget restrictions and other bureaucratic red tape, but the state of California should make the investments into Caltrans to ensure our safety. California currently has a historic budget surplus of $100 billion. Those funds should be used to secure our infrastructure against the inevitable.






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Abraham Woodliff - Bay Area Memelord

Abraham Woodliff - Bay Area Memelord

Abraham Woodliff is an Oakland-based writer, editor and digital content creator known for Bay Area Memes, a local meme page that has amassed nearly 200k followers. His work has appeared in SFGATE, The Bold Italic and of course, His book of short stories, personal essays and poetry entitled Don't Drown on Dry Ground is available now!