Throwback Thursday: Construction of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge

By Mark Prado
Richmond-San Rafael Bridge
Richmond-San Rafael Bridge and its "swayback" design. John Huseby photo via Caltrans.

The Richmond-San Rafael Bridge has been in news of late for holes in its deck, so we thought we'd take a look at the span's history.

There had long been talk of a bridge linking the North Bay counties with the those in the East Bay, but the real impetus for the span came after a two-month ferry strike in 1947, followed by a second five-month walkout in 1949.

In June 1951, $62 million in state bonds was approved for construction of the bridge and another $4 million in state money was made available. Aesthetics were sacrificed for cost savings as the bridge was designed. Rather than spend the money to draw up and build two distinctively designed cantilever sections, a single design was duplicated, including its downward curve. To make the pieces fit, the downward slopes had to meet.

It paid off: The bridge came in $4 million under budget, but at a cost. When it opened to the public, residents complained about the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge’s “swayback” design.

It was on Aug. 31, 1956, that Gov. Goodwin Knight dedicated the bridge. The next day, Sept. 1, the John F. McCarthy Memorial Bridge – as it is officially known – opened for traffic. McCarthy was a state senator from Marin between 1950 and 1970 and a former Republican Senate majority leader who sponsored the bill authorizing the construction.




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