Director's Corner

The silver lining to 1989 tragedy is improved safety

Previously, I thanked those of you who played a role in Caltrans’ quick and efficient response to two large earthquakes that struck the Ridgecrest area this summer. The July 5 quake reached 7.1 on the Richter scale, a magnitude California had not experienced in 20 years.

Despite the sudden and violent vibrations, none of the 30-plus bridges inspected by Caltrans that holiday weekend was found to have sustained any damage. That impressive fact is a testament to how the department’s seismic retrofitting program and refined construction techniques have bolstered our transportation system against the destructive and lethal threats that earthquakes pose.

Four major earthquakes in densely populated regions –San Fernando in 1971, Whittier Narrows in 1987, Loma Prieta in 1989 and Northridge in 1994 – taught the department many valuable lessons about what can be done to limit damage to our transportation infrastructure and, most importantly, to save lives. In our next Mile Marker magazine issue, we explore that seismic evolution in detail.

In this special edition news release, we are marking the 30th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake, which tested Caltrans in several complex ways. Near the epicenter, State Route 17 was severely damaged and required weeks of repair. Pillars punched through a U.S. Route 101 bridge deck near Watsonville. A 50-foot portion of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge collapsed, which closed that vital transportation artery for a month.

Most shockingly, a 0.7-mile stretch of the double-deck Cypress Street Viaduct “pancaked” in Oakland, resulting in 43 fatalities. Scores of our employees participated, sometimes at great personal risk, in rescue and recovery operations.

Six current employees whose Caltrans careers were underway by that fateful 15 seconds on Oct. 17, 1989, are spotlighted in this special e-newsletter, as are three retired employees. They all have remarkable stories to tell.

We hope you enjoy this look back at an event that so many of us remember vividly.

Bob Franzoia
Acting Director, Caltrans