The provost, Steve Holsebus and 2 engineering profs on a boat below the new East Span for the Bay Bridge.

Civil Engineering Alumnus Helps Design Bay Bridge East Span

The provost, Steve Holsebus and 2 engineering profs on a boat below the new East Span for the Bay Bridge.

Provost Gerry Selter, alumnus Steve Hulsebus, and engineering professors Jae-Ho Pyeon and Thalia Anagnos touring the new East Span for the Bay Bridge (photo by Karl Nielsen).

By Pat Lopes Harris, Media Relations Director

It was a gorgeous fall morning on the bay, but the crowd on the boat couldn’t take their eyes off what is destined to become another Bay Area icon.

The new skyway comprising much of the East Span for the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge stole the show on a cruise under the site arranged for SJSU by Caltrans’ Steve Hulsebus, civil engineering ‘83.

“Bay Area universities have provided some of the most important workers for this project,” said his boss, Toll Bridge Deputy Program Manager Brian Maroney.

Although Hulsebus has every right to take a little credit, it took a good hour to pry out of this very modest Spartan his role in what may be the single largest engineering effort in California Department of Transportation history.

“Like the Clark Kent of This Project”

He oversees a team of several dozen engineers as design principal for the Caltrans toll bridge program in the district encompassing the Bay Area.

“Steve is like the Clark Kent of this project,” Maroney said. “I’m worried about him retiring because there are no more phone booths.”

On the tour, Hulsebus shared with Provost Gerry Selter, engineering Dean Belle Wei and a half dozen professors what seemed like a million lessons learned while helping design this $6 billion effort.

The most important from his perspective? That good engineering is about more than the facts and figures; it is about communicating your contributions to the entire team, and in this case, it’s a giant team!

“Engineers have concepts in their minds and have detailed plan sheets showing how complex structures are to be constructed,” Hulsebus said. “Often times, there is the need to communicate the information on the plans and in the engineers heads to other non-engineers.”

Engineers of all disciplines — from civil to environmental — are working on the project, hand-in-hand with environmental planners and construction workers representing all the trades.

Understanding the Impact of Globalization

Fabricators from Stockton to China to England produced the span in pieces, which were shipped to the Bay Area, and then snapped into place. This fascinated General Engineering Professor Thalia Anagnos.

“The College of Engineering is trying to help students understand the impact of globalization on engineering,” she said. “This is a very interesting example of a global solution to a complex engineering project.”

Caltrans has spent over two decades retrofitting the entire bridge, a process that began when the Loma Prieta earthquake struck in 1989. Not only did an upper deck come crashing down, but the tembler rattled the entire structure, calling for an upgrade.

Designed to wiggle rather than snap when an earthquake hits, the new East Span is also quite beautiful. From a distance, it looks like two thin, white, gently curving parallel lines swooping over the bay from Yerba Buena Island to Oakland.

“Replacing the grey steel that currently cages drivers will be a graceful, elevated roadway supported by piers, providing sweeping views of the bay,” the project website explains.

The World’s Largest Self-Anchored Suspension Bridge

Soon, a cable will be strung from one end, up to the top of a 525-foot tower (that’s around 52 stories), down to the other end and back again, making this the world’s largest self-anchored suspension bridge.

For the 270,000 drivers who cross the bridge daily, there will be five lanes in each direction plus a 10-foot shoulder for cars in distress. There will also be bike and pedestrian paths.

When the new East Span is completed in 2013, the old span, opened to drivers in 1936, will be closed and demolished, another engineering feat. #