More than a Bridge
The distance between thumb and outstretched forefinger.
That was the margin for error when the construction crew began to slide a 300-foot-long, 6,000-ton concrete slab into place at the western end of the new Bay Bridge linking San Francisco to Oakland during the Labor Day Weekend of 2007.
Just to make matters even more exciting, the team had precisely seventy-two hours to finish the job so that the 280,000 commuters who use the bridge daily would have a way to get to work on Tuesday.
It was a moment of truth for Tony Anziano '77, one of many in his job as the toll bridge program manager for the State of California Department of Transportation. It may be a wonky-sounding title, but Anziano's responsibilities can be boiled down to: the fix-all man. On any given day, he may give testimony at a legislative hearing in the morning; resolve a conflict between construction managers and environmental regulators over lunch; and then brief representatives of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Coast Guard in the afternoon. He is part diplomat, part mediator, part cheerleader for the enormous By Bridge project.
Anziano oversees a staff of 450 employees and a budget of $6.3 billion. But all he could do over that Labor Day Weekend was wait and watch.
"I am fortunate to have an exceptional staff, and the contractor performing the work, CC Myers, Inc., is an exceptional outfit," Anziano said. "With this team, my confidence level was high that the move would be successful."
But would it be on time?
"If we took longer than planned, it would lead to a traffic nightmare for the region. Tensions were high, but the most remarkable part of the operation—actually moving the slab into a very tight slot (three inches to spare at each end)—went much faster than planned: two hours instead of six.
"After finishing the work there was certainly a blend of relief, satisfaction, and pride in the team, but mostly I was tired, having slept for about six hours over three days."
The Bay Bridge isn't just a beloved local icon. It became part of our national consciousness during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, when a section of the upper deck collapsed onto the lower deck. The National Geographic Channel recently documented the installation of the cement slab on its World's Toughest Fixes program.
"The new bridge will be the longest self-anchored suspension span in the world [upon completion]," Anziano said.
Interestingly, Anziano's background is not in engineering or construction but in psychology (at Kenyon) and the law (at the University of San Francisco).
His undergraduate and graduate work "both contributed to the skills needed for this project: organization, analysis, communication. Both also helped me learn how to learn, something I've needed while working for the department."
After graduating from Kenyon, Anziano made his way from Cleveland (his hometown) to San Francisco. He worked as a research assistant for the San Francisco courts for two years before accepting a job in the legal department of the Department of Transportation in 1988, the year before the earthquake would demonstrate how unsafe the Bay Bridge was when subjected to stress.
The new Bay Bridge project was conceived in the mid-1990s after exhaustive study of the Loma Prieta earthquake and its effects.
"That's a long time from then to now and we still have three years to go," Anziano said. "But the project remains a joy to work on, a once in a lifetime chance to participate in something truly unique and lasting.
"People just love bridges," Anziano said. "The examples are endless: the Brooklyn Bridge, the Tower Bridge, the Ponte Vecchio, the Rialto, the Sydney Harbor Bridge.
"The Golden Gate Bridge is instantly recognized around the world as the symbol of San Francisco," he said. But not for long, if his team has its way.
"I already see our new bridge becoming a regional icon. Our NBA team, the Golden State Warriors, changed their logo to an image of the new Bay Bridge. The original team logo was an image of the Golden Gate.
"Bridges have a major impact on people's lives, providing key transportation links, but they are also inspirational in some indefinable manner. Maybe it's their connection with water? Whatever it is, people love bridges."