Free transit helps avoid tieups after road falls

Dire predictions don't match the reality for California commuters.

Published May 1, 2007

OAKLAND, Calif. - San Francisco Bay area commuters skirted the wreckage of a collapsed section of freeway Monday as crews began hauling away the charred debris that had been a vital link between San Francisco and its eastern suburbs.

City officials called for a review of the rules that allowed a driver with a criminal background to haul the 8, 000 gallons of gasoline that burned and weakened the overpass early Sunday, causing it to crumple onto another below.

The snarled highways envisioned for the region didn't materialize Monday, as many commuters seized on free public transportation, avoided rush hour or just stayed home.

Authorities predicted that the crash would cause the worst disruption for commuters since a 1989 earthquake damaged the Bay Bridge. The sight of the soaring freeway twisted into a fractured mass of steel and concrete at the edge of downtown Oakland was reminiscent of that quake's damage. The freeway is known as the MacArthur Maze.

Eighty-thousand vehicles a day use the damaged portion of the road. But because the accident occurred where three highways converge, authorities said it could cause problems for hundreds of thousands of commuters.

To encourage motorists to switch to public transit, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger authorized free passage Monday on ferries, buses and the BART rail system. Extra trains were added, and bus and ferry operators expanded service.

State officials promised to move swiftly, and observers said the span could be rebuilt in months.

The investigation was still under way, but the California Highway Patrol believes the truck driver, James Mosqueda, 51, may have been speeding.

Mosqueda has a history of criminal activity. The state's vehicle code allows convicted felons who have served their sentences to get commercial driver's licenses so long as they have clear driving records, Patrol Chief Steve Vaughn said.