Demolition crews start chipping away at old Bay Bridge

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SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – The beginning of the end arrived Tuesday for the recently retired east span of the Bay Bridge, which will slowly disappear from its place of prominence over the next three years.

Demolition crews, who had been preparing the 77-year-old bridge for its departure since its shiny new replacement arrived in September, began ripping out the upper road deck of the cantilever section as light rain yielded to sunshine Tuesday morning. The day, incidentally, was the anniversary of the bridge’s opening.

Giant red jackhammers relentlessly pounded away at the pavement, occasionally causing the old steel span to shudder and shake. Trucks hauled away the debris to a remote site, where it will be beaten into smaller chunks, the steel rebar removed so the concrete can be recycled.

“Today, the major demolition starts,” said Andrew Gordon, a Bay Bridge spokesman.

The retired span won’t disappear from the bay quickly, and commuters, bike riders and runners using the new east span will be able to watch its vanishing act. But beginning early next year, less and less of it will be visible. Demolition crews plan to dismantle the gray steel span piece by piece in roughly the reverse order of how it was assembled in the mid-1930s.

Removing the old east span will cost about $281 million, which is included in the $6.4 billion price tag for the new bridge.