Last night I finally did it. Due to the generosity of a good friend, Kevin, I was able to go through the newly-opened fourth bore of the Caldecott Tunnel. No, we didn’t go anywhere in particular; it was 1 AM and nothing is open past 9 PM in the sleepy suburbs of Lamorinda — trust me, I grew up there. Since it was, essentially, the gateway from school to my home, I found it unacceptable that the tunnel had been open for nearly a week and I hadn’t been through it. Sure, I haven’t been on the new Bay Bridge, but to me, the tunnel was the more-traversed, more sentimental, and — due to the ‘reversible bore’ configuration that was mitigated with the opening of the fourth bore — the more headache-inducing stretch of road. Though most of you readers have absolutely no reason to leave the excitement and acceptance of Berkeley to go to the sleepy, judgmental suburbs that lie on the other side of the Caldecott, the previous situation was a huge headache — the best CalTrans could do at the time, but still, a headache. To understand why, though, you need a little bit of history.
Highway 24 is a 2-way, 8-lane stretch of highway that runs from the junction of Interstate 680 in Walnut Creek (considered the dining and shopping hub of the aforementioned suburbs) to the junction with Interstate 980 in Oakland. It’s the route that people who wake up in their quiet and pristine suburban neighborhoods east of the tunnel take to work in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland. As I’m sure you (and your legs) know, our campus is extremely hilly. It only gets worse east of campus. If you were to keep climbing up past Memorial Stadium, you’d finally reach the peak of the Berkeley Hills, which, as you can imagine, would be quite difficult and dangerous for hoards of suburban commuters to drive on to work and back every single day. So, in 1937, CalTrans built a tunnel in each direction (each one is referred to as a ‘bore’) to replace the aging Kennedy Tunnel. However, as the suburbs to the east of Berkeley began to grow after the war, it was evident that the two bores weren’t cutting it in terms of traffic. So, figuring the commute was going west towards Berkeley in the morning and east towards the suburbs in the afternoon, CalTrans built a third, reversible two-lane bore that would head west in the morning and east in the afternoon. Up until last Saturday, sometime around 11:30 AM, after the majority of cars had headed to work, crews came in and manually switched the barriers and traffic could flow the other direction in the third bore.
Here’s where the headache comes in. Highway 24 is a four lane highway pretty much everywhere, unless you’re traveling in the opposite direction of the third bore — east in the morning and west in the afternoon. And, though the majority of the traffic is flowing the commute direction, west in the morning and east in the afternoon, there are still some cars traveling the other direction. My friends came in the morning from Oakland and Berkeley to my school in Lafayette on the other side of the tunnel and had to head back home against the commute in the afternoon. I would even like to go to Berkeley sometimes in the afternoon after school because there was simply more to do. The problem, however, lied in the inevitable merge. When there was only one bore (2 lanes) open in your direction, traffic would grind to a halt and people would start doing crazy, assholish things. So assholish, that it merited a New York Times article. Still, whether you decided to be an asshole or not (and I admit, at age 16, I took the exit right before the tunnel and immediately got back on the freeway to cut in line), you would have to wait. The reality of the 3-bore situation was so ingrained into life that it became an automatic factor considered in whether going somewhere was feasible. “Sorry, dude, I’d love to come over but there’s only one tunnel open and I’m tired” would be a common response (and convenient excuse). Now, though, I guess there would be no excuse, because the fourth bore is open. And I’m glad my friends understand why that makes me so happy.