Remaking the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge: A Case of Shadowboxing with Nature, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Remaking the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge

A Case of Shadowboxing with Nature, 1st Edition

By Karen Trapenberg Frick


196 pages

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New in Paperback: 9781138209329
pub: 2016-07-21
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On 17 October 1989 one the largest earthquakes to occur in California since the San Francisco earthquake of April 1906 struck Northern California. Damage was extensive, none more so than the partial collapse of the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge’s eastern span, a vital link used by hundreds of thousands of Californians every day.

The bridge was closed for a month for repairs and then reopened to traffic. But what ensued over the next 25 years is the extraordinary story that Karen Trapenberg Frick tells here. It is a cautionary tale to which any governing authority embarking on a megaproject should pay heed.

She describes the process by which the bridge was eventually replaced as an exercise in shadowboxing which pitted the combined talents and shortcomings, partnerships and jealousies, ingenuity and obtuseness, generosity and parsimony of the State’s and the region’s leading elected officials, engineers, architects and other members of the governing elites against a collectively imagined future catastrophe of unknown proportions. In so doing she highlights three key questions:

If safety was the reason to replace the bridge, why did it take almost 25 years to do so?

How did an original estimate of $250 million in 1995 soar to $6.5 billion by 2014?

And why was such a complex design chosen?

Her final chapter – part epilogue, part reflection – provides recommendations to improve megaproject delivery and design.


"This book chronicles the manner in which the replacement bridge was constructed, which extended over the course of 25 years. The initial estimated cost for reconstructing the bridge was set at 250 million dollars; at the project’s close, the new bridge’s total cost hit 6.5 billion dollars. This book examines how this significant cost differentiation occurred by investigating the shortcomings of elected officials, engineers, architects, special interest groups, and corporations. The author also addresses and inspects the manner in which this project was packed with incompetent management, an overall lack of engineering knowledge, and a complete misunderstanding of regulatory requirements. To finish, the author provides suggestions to improve the construction, management, and implementation of "megaprojects." This book is recommended to individuals in the areas of regional and transportation planning." --A. M. Strauss, Vanderbilt University

Table of Contents

1. Mind over Matter, 2. Field Guide to Megaproject Interpretation, Part I: Time in Suspension, 3. Past as Prologue, 4. Engineering between the Fault Lines, Part II: A Race Against Time, 5. Shockwaves by Design, 6. Ground Motions when Pedalling for a Pathway and Train Tracks, Part III: Hurry Up and Wait…and Wait, 7. Freefalling to Vertigo, 8. Back to the Future: the ‘Big One’ of Skyrocketing Costs, 9. Aftershock: Hubris and Shadowboxing with Nature

About the Author

Karen Trapenberg Frick is Assistant Adjunct Professor in the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of California, Berkeley, Co-Director of the University of California Transportation Center and Assistant Director of the University of California Center on Economic Competitiveness in Transportation.

About the Series

Planning, History and Environment Series

This series offers a unique window on the creation of the modern environment. Designed for an international readership, the emphasis is on:

  • urban and regional planning
  • recent as well as longer-term history
  • what the past can tell us about the present
  • local as well as global and comparative topics

Within this framework the books address three themes:

  • regional, continental and comparative studies
  • planning histories of key cities
  • changing planning ideologies and policies


Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
ARCHITECTURE / Urban & Land Use Planning