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Carquinez Strait

December, 2003

Al Zampa Bridge.
1. Al Zampa Bridge
Three bridge spans.
2. Three bridge spans
The crowd on the bridge.
3. The crowd
4. Jamie

The original cantilever bridge over the Carquinez Strait was dedicated on May 21, 1927 by Calvin Coolidge, then President of the United States. It was a big celebration, with the Governors of California, Nevada, and Oregon releasing carrier pidgeons, fireworks, military salutes, and bands. An estimated 18,000 people drove over the bridge for free that day. There was a continuous line of cars crossing the bridge until after 2:00 a.m.

That bridge was a major achievment, spanning a one mile gorge over the Sacramento River. It was an important link in a highway system that ran from Canada to Mexico. Before the bridge, cars were ferried across the 9-knot river currents. During times of peak demand, it could be a long wait for the next ferry. California built a second cantilever bridge in 1958 to help handle the growing traffic loads.

The original cantilever bridge will soon be torn down, its aging bolted steel frame too costly to maintain. It has been replaced by a modern suspension bridge, the first to be built in this area since the Golden Gate Bridge was completed in the 1930's. One of the workers on the original highway bridge was Al Zampa, and the new bridge has been named for him (photo #1). The second cantilever bridge will remain to handle northbound traffic, with the new suspension bridge handling southbound traffic. During our trip to San Francisco on the Liberty Ship Jeremiah O'Brien, we saw all three bridges from below (photo #2).

The new bridge was opened to the public on November 10th, 2003. The celebration this time was a bit less pretentious, but it attracted a huge crowd (photo #3). We drove to a parking lot in the City of Vallejo to catch a special shuttle bus to take us to the bridge. There were far more people than anticipated, and we waited for over an hour to catch the bus. By that time, we were too late for the ceremony. But we did get to walk over the new bridge. Jamie (photo #4) wasn't working on the day of the dedication, and we were able to go together.

As we walked across the bridge, we saw young boys peeling asphalt off the roadway, for what reason one can only imagine. The California Highway Patrol was patrolling the bridge on bicycle, as there was no room on this part of the bridge for a car. Jim took pictures of the bridge, including this one of the support cables that hold everything up. Once we reached the western side of the bridge, in the small town of Crockett, we saw an interesting display of highway signs left by the construction workers. It's hard to tell which direction to turn.

It was threatening rain all day, but we completed our walk across the bridge without getting wet. While we waited another hour for the bus, however, it rained quite hard — and we got quite wet. We were cold and hungry by the time we returned to the car. But we had a great time and felt that we were privileged to have taken part in a small bit of California history.

— return to the 2003 Journal Archive


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