Friday, August 27, 2004

Celebration to mark opening of new Carquinez Bridge

November 2, 2003

Celebration to mark opening of new Carquinez Bridge

By Barry Eberling

-- Workers spent the past three years building 400-foot-tall concrete towers rising from the depths of the Carquinez Strait and hoisting 600-ton roadway sections high into the air.

The toiling is over. The new, $239 million Carquinez Bridge is just about finished.

Now it's time to party.

The Bay Area's first suspension bridge since the fabled Golden Gate will be dedicated Saturday, Nov. 8, and should open to traffic by Monday, Nov. 10. It will bear the name of iron worker Al Zampa, who helped build the 1927 cantilever bridge the new span will replace.

This party was originally scheduled for the following weekend. Even the commemorative coin bears the wrong date. Some have speculated the date moved up because recalled Gov. Gray Davis wanted to be there and thought he might be out of office by mid-November.

"It's just ridiculous," said Kena Hudson, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation.

The date moved up a week because the bridge should be finished then, a Caltrans official said. The state doesn't want to keep a completed bridge out of action for a week waiting for the dedication ceremony.

Whatever the reason, this is a big event for Crockett, the town of 3,300 residents sitting in the shadow of the bridge's southern abutment.

Crockett resident Gene Pedrotti is chairman of the celebration committee. He wanted to help put on the party.

"I think the most prominent reason is the thrill I get looking at the bridge every day from my window," Pedrotti said. "I have a stunning view I enjoy from my house.

"The second is pure fantasy. I always dreamed of seeing fireworks off the bridge."

His dream should come true. The celebration is to culminate with a pyrotechnic show over the Carquinez Strait. Pedrotti bills it as the biggest fireworks display over local bays since the 50th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge.

But that's only part of the day.

Davis is scheduled to preside over the ceremony, one of the last acts he will perform before leaving office on Nov. 17. Organizers also sent an invitation to Gov.-Elect Arnold Schwarzenegger. Caltrans officials couldn't say if Schwarzenegger will attend.

The various leaders and dignitaries will kick off the bridge celebration at 1 p.m. by making speeches on the Vallejo side of the bridge.

The ribbon-cutting could be different from the traditional type. One idea calls for Zampa relatives to put their welding skills to use and torch a chain.

Visitors can then walk on the main deck of the new bridge before it opens to cars. They will walk from the Vallejo side to the Crockett side only, to avoid a mass of people meeting in the middle. Shuttles will take people from the parking areas to where they need to be.

People who usually zip past Crockett with a sidelong glance at the C&H Sugar factory will get the chance to become acquainted with the town. That's where the parade, booths and other festivities will be.

At 6 p.m., the fireworks are to begin. To bring things to a close, the bridge lights will go on.

Pedrotti expects 20,000 to 50,000 people to attend the celebration - six to 15 times the population of Crockett.

Pedrotti's family has a long history in Crockett. His grandfather in 1922 started Pedrotti Hardware, a business Gene Pedrotti runs to this day, though it's now located in Benicia.

He recently learned his grandfather bought shares of stock in the 1927 Carquinez Bridge. That cantilever bridge will get torn down, its aging steel-and-bolt frame too much of a maintenance chore.

California built a second cantilever bridge in 1958 to help handle the growing traffic loads. That bridge will remain to handle northbound traffic, with the new bridge handling southbound traffic.

The pending destruction of the original bridge could be the one bittersweet note in the dedication. It's out with the old and in with the new - even though the old still has fans.

"The town has always had a love affair with its monuments, including the existing two bridges, particularly the 1927 bridge," Pedrotti said.

Still, he's excited the replacement is a graceful suspension bridge.

"It will look classy," he said.

The 1927 bridge was a marvel of its time. Spanning a mile-wide strait with currents of up to 9 mph, it helped change the face of the region, providing increased mobility for a growing car culture. No longer did people have to wait for the ferry.

That called for a big dedication celebration on May 21, 1927. President Calvin Coolidge pressed a golden telegraph key in Washington, D.C., to begin the festivities.

California Gov. Clement Young, Nevada Gov. Fred Balzar and Oregon Gov. Isaac Lee Patterson released carrier pigeons. The birds had attached to them news of the bridge opening.

The original bridge had more than regional significance. It completed a highway system linking Canada and Mexico.

Fireworks exploded in the air. Military craft fired to salute the flag. A band played the national anthem.

People could drive over the bridge for free that day. An estimated 18,000 did. A continuous line of cars still streamed across at 2 a.m.

Then a 60 cent toll took effect - about $5.70 in today's money, making the present-day toll of $2 look like a bargain. The party had ended.

But now a new bridge is in place and a new party is planned.

Barry Eberling can be contacted at

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