Is that all it took? Here in my Viaduct-view office, sitting in a 19th-century former warehouse building that trembled and shook alarmingly during the 2001 Nisqually quake, I had thought I wouldn’t have to worry about that thing until the next grinding of tectonic plates pushed past 6.8 on the Richter scale. Then came Sunday’s fiery collapse of crucial elevated highway ramps in Oakland, and the Viaduct suddenly seems like an imminent problem again. Our useless March advisory vote effectively punted a Viaduct replacement decision until…until whenever the 520 bridge replacement and a whole lot of other costly highway projects get done, I guess. In other words: No tunnel, no rebuild, no action.
Then a reckless California gasoline truck driver effectively drives a bomb under a critical highway interchange, and the Bay Area’s traffic patterns may be permanently altered—no matter how (or when) they replace the thing. Around 160,000 cars used the structure every day (as compared to 110,000-plus on our Viaduct) and—poof!—it’s gone, just like that. All it takes is one errant Seattle truck driver with a flammable load (below the Viaduct, mind you, while such cargo is restricted above and in the Battery Street tunnel, where a similar fire occurred in 1975).
Yet here’s a fascinating side note: The Bay Area’s expected traffic apocalypse hasn’t (yet) turned out that way, as commuters carpool, take public transportation, find alternate routes, or telecommute. I’m not saying traffic won’t get ugly down there, and I wouldn’t wish for a fuel truck to demolish our venerable, teetering Viaduct. Still, it gets you thinking: It may not take an act of God to flatten the thing and raise the replacement debate anew. Just one truck, one driver, and one distraction like changing the radio station, answering a cell phone, or rubbernecking at a pretty girl. Then Oakland may be laughing at us.