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New Bay Bridge Span May Improve Oakland's Image

OAKLAND (CBS) – It's been called the step-child of the mighty Bay Bridge: the East Bay span sees no crowds of tourists taking snapshots, but they may remember the segment that failed.

Andy Fremier of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission helped repair the bridge after the quake.

"I think it certainly is a utilitarian bridge, but it's done its job. It's been out there for 75 plus years and it's carried millions of commuters and goods over that life span. It's showing it's getting old and looking forward to some retirement."

Alison Best is President & CEO of Visit Oakland. She said nothing has symbolized that like the bridge's eastern span.

"I think we've always sort of been sort of the ugly poor cousin to San Francisco. You come through sort of a dark passageway. You miss seeing the skyline and the scope of the mountains and the port."

In the 1990's, the devastation of the Loma Prieta earthquake presented a prime opportunity to make over the eastern span eyesore. Then-Oakland mayor Jerry Brown had big plans – a signature bridge making a statement for Oakland and the entire East Bay.

Fremier said that was not what politicians in Sacramento had in mind.

"The State of California offered the Bay Area a very standard viaduct in order to replace the bridge under the Pete Wilson administration," Fremier recalled.

That plan was widely slammed as a vanilla bridge – a "highway on stilts." So the fight to build a more beautiful bridge began.

However, it was a process beset by bureaucracy, a bloated budget and political squabbling. After a design task force approved a towering suspension bridge both stylish and seismically sound, the struggle to get the project off the ground wore on.

Years of setbacks and squabbling finally gave way to a rising replacement bridge. East Bay resident Timothy Halls said "I think it'll be a great opportunity for Oakland to show itself off. The eyesore of the old bridge won't be there to sort of detract from the beauty, and Oakland is a beautiful spot."

It's already happening. In 2010, the Golden State Warriors fused the eastern span's suspension bridge into the team logo. And the new bridge will do what the old one never could – open a gateway to the East Bay skyline.

Fremier said the new span will "open up into the panorama of the Berkeley Hills, the Claremont Hotel. You'll see the Berkeley campus and you'll see the Port of Oakland."

It's a sentiment Best shares, "I think it'll be like coming in through a beautiful front door instead of coming around through a back door."

It could be a change bringing Oakland's image out of the dark.

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