California Transportation Division Battles Navy over Bridge

Article excerpt

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- State transportation officials knew three years ago there would be problems getting permission from the U.S. Navy to build a new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, but it forged ahead anyway and eventually spent $40 million for planning.

Now a deadlock between the California Department of Transportation and the Navy is the only thing holding up the $1.5 billion bridge, which is being financed by a 1998 toll increase of $1 on all spans in the San Francisco Bay area, except for the Golden Gate Bridge. The new bridge would be one of the largest building projects in Caltrans' history.

The dispute centers on where Caltrans wants to position the new span between Oakland and Yerba Buena Island. State engineers and a regional commission want to build to the north of the current bridge. But Mayor Willie Brown and the Navy say the span should be built to the south, to protect potential development and historic buildings on Treasure Island that adjoins Yerba Buena. The bridge, which was built in 1936 and has a main span that is 2,310 feet long, joins the east and west sides of the Bay. The two links connecting Alameda County to the east and San Francisco to the west meet at Yerba Buena. Caltrans has tremendous power to take land it needs for building freeways and bridges, but it has no control over the Navy. "My impression is that they don't hear the word `no' very often," said Jeff Young, a spokesman for the Navy, "and I think they kind of just proceeded. And now they've run into federal property." It's not that Caltrans hasn't worked with the Navy about getting a drilling permit and putting heavy construction equipment on Treasure and Yerba Buena islands. Caltrans has put together a file with 74 letters and memos between the two agencies dating to July 6, 1995. In early 1997, when it became clear Caltrans wanted to build a new bridge instead of retrofitting the old one, environmental officials for the transportation department sent a letter requesting access to Navy property. Six days later, on March 10, 1997, the Navy replied with a detailed letter saying the request was premature. The service said it appeared the plans would put Navy housing in jeopardy, make too much noise and bother movie sound studios on Treasure Island, and make it generally difficult for people to live and work on the island. In addition, the Navy said Caltrans was ignoring its pleas to improve dangerous ramps to and from the island that were built in the 1930s, and Caltrans hadn't resolved who would clean up lead contamination under the Bay Bridge. "While the Navy desires to facilitate the seismic improvements to this vital Bay area transportation artery," Navy manager Kenn Y. …