SAN RAFAEL (KPIX 5) — After several public health scares, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge is getting a critical health inspection. It’s a review that will take one year to complete and it could provide more answers as to how many years of service the bridge has left.

Recent episodes of concrete falling from the upper roadway have placed renewed focus on the integrity of the bridge, with some state lawmakers saying it has as little as 20 years left. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission wants more information before making that kind of determination.

“Look, the way we treat these very large and complex structures is that they should last forever,” said Andrew Fremier, Deputy Executive Director of Operations with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. “So our intent and our maintenance opportunities are designed to make sure that they last well beyond what anybody might have assumed as a design life.”

MTC Engineers don’t like to talk about life expectancy when it comes to bridges, but as of Monday, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge is undergoing what amounts to a year-long physical exam, starting with the road deck, which has been spitting concrete. It will will be surveyed by the equipment attached to these trucks.

“What eventually will be a deck rehabilitation of some sort,” explains Fremier. “So this work is really designed to decide how significant that we would need to do on the bridge deck.”

Going beyond the road deck, that will take engineers back to 1956. The cantilever design doesn’t necessarily make it unique among the Bay Area’s bridges, but its size and importance do raise the stakes.

Engineers will now look to see if 64 years have allowed the Bay and fog to dig into the steel. If so, how badly and in how many places. Only then might we understand just how many years the bridge might have left.

“I think with bridges like the Richmond and the old Carquinez Bridge, we are starting to see that we know at some point in the future they should be removed and replaced,” Fremier says. “The question then becomes, ‘is that the right time to invest in it.’”

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