Bay Bridge Closed, Commute Sluggish

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BART trains were packed, ferry lines were long and commuters were on heightened alert Thursday -- the first morning of a five-day Bay Bridge closure planned to allow transportation workers to prepare to unveil the new eastern span.

BART released ridership numbers Thursday showing that the system had a total of 161,166 riders, up about 31,000 compared to the same day last year. And on Wednesday - the night the bridge shut down - ridership hit just over 427,000, BART's 10th busiest day ever.

Warren Tabada was one of those BART riders.

He left his Pittsburg home at 4:30 a.m. - two hours earlier than usual - to make it to the West Oakland BART station.

"I just wanted to make sure I got there in time," he said.

MORE: Engineers Prepare to "Unbuild" Old East Span

Sheila Dominic of Emeryville, normally a driver, also headed to BART for her commute.

"It would be hard to do this regularly," she said. "But I can get it together for one or two days."

The Golden Gate Bridge also saw an increase of traffic Thursday, up 35 percent at 14,647 vehicles between 4 and 8 a.m. The Golden Gate Ferry also got a boost in ridership, up nearly 20 percent to 2,577 passengers between 5:45 and 9:15 a.m.

The San Francisco Bay Ferry also reported a 57 percent increase in morning ridership during the first day of the Bay Bridge closure. The ferry service saw 4,740 passengers Thursday morning, up from 3,008 riders on Wednesday morning.

Other Bay Area commuters stood in long ferry lines and slowed down the San Mateo and Dumbarton bridges to get from Point A to Point B without the help of the Bay Bridge.

The commuting changes were because the Bay Bridge between the East Bay and San Francisco shut down at  8:05 p.m. Wednesday, so that work to install the new eastern span could begin. This project has been in the works since the 1989 6.9-magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake that damaged the old eastern span of the bridge and a long, contentious movement began to make it seismically safer. On Thursday, officials said construction was moving along as planned.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission said it will take about three years to demolish the old eastern span, taking it apart piece by piece.

The Bay Bridge sees about 285,000 vehicles using it each day. This weekend's closure is the fourth time in seven years that officials have shut the bridge down over the Labor Day weekend, when traffic is significantly lighter.

BART trains will run 24 hours through the holiday weekend. Bus and ferry service will also be bolstered to help people move around.

"Be patient, wherever you're going,'' John Goodwin, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, said. "We saw this same thing during the bridge closures in 2007 and 2009. The Bay Area keeps moving. It just becomes more sluggish.''

 The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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