USA: $400 million to protect the Golden Gate bridge from earthquakes

New technologies to secure a strategic infrastructure and the lives of millions of people

“There is only one Golden Gate Bridge, and we are going to protect it,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said on January 23 when he announced the planned investment of $400 million for a vast overhaul of the bridge that dominates the San Francisco Bay.

“It carries over 100,000 vehicles a day, 37 million a year, including over half a million freight trucks making it a key link for supply chains, including the water-borne freight at the Port of Oakland,” Buttigieg said.

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and San Francisco Mayor London Breed were also present on the day of the announcement, united in a project the U.S. media defined as bipartisan. In fact the funds derive from an infrastructure bill voted by Republicans as well as Democrats.

The end goal is to make the bridge, which is already subject to extreme pressures, even more resistant to eventual earthquakes, which in California are a daily threat.  Therefore, innovation and new technologies will be employed to safeguard a strategic infrastructure and the lives of millions of people.

A project that is part of the US Government’s plan to redelop old bridges, as happened in California with the Gerald Desmond Bridge, replaced by the Long Beach International Gateway, built by Webuild in consortium with other international builders. A few months after his inauguration, the bridge has already become iconic, with its long cable-stayed bridge access viaducts with a 304-metre (1,082-foot) central span, two side spans of about 150 metres (492 feet), and two main towers 157 metres (524 feet) high.

The new shock pads for the Golden Gate Bridge

“Essentially you move from having shock pads to brake pads on this bridge,” said Mitch Landrieu, White House infrastructure coordinator. “So when that bad thing you think might happen, should it ever happen, prepare for the worst, help for the best.”

The work will in fact focus on substituting key critical elements of the bridge which, over time, have been strained. Their replacement includes the addition of a new support system that will give the bridge more flexibility and make it more resilient in case of an earthquake.

This institutional response with a $400 million investment comes at a particularly complex time for California, battered by heavy rainstorms that have caused heavy damages to the state’s infrastructure, starting with its roads network.

“As a down payment for the president’s commitment to rebuild after the storms, we just announced we’re immediately making $10.2 million of emergency transportation funds to repair damage roads,” Buttigieg said.

Protecting the Golden Gate bridge to safeguard an American Icon

The most complex part of the project will begin in 2024 and is expected to last through 2029. Five years will be necessary to renovate the main span and the northern anchor. This is the heart of the project which, as part of many critical infrastructure needs of the country, aims to safeguard one of the most important and most iconic structures of the United States. Some $76 million will be spent to build an anti-suicide barrier to end a now sadly common practice. Since 1937, 1800 people have jumped to their deaths from the bridge.

Despite this, the Golden Gate bridge remains an American symbol, a tourist attraction and an engine for growth. With its 3 kilometers in length, which at the time it was built made it the longest suspended bridge in the world, the bridge remains a tourist attraction for millions and the way to leave San Francisco heading north on U.S. Route 101 and California State Route 1. It’s an infrastructure that never shuts down, or almost. Since its inauguration it was closed because of strong winds only three times, in 1951, 1982 and 1983. And with these new renovation projects, it aims to survive even the most violent earthquakes.