Despite worsening traffic delays across the Bay Area, 2013 will go down as a year in which huge transportation improvements were completed -- perhaps more than in any year in many decades.
Among the more than $10 billion in long-awaited upgrades now finished: the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge. A fourth bore at the Caldecott Tunnel. All-electronic tolling on the Golden Gate Bridge. The tunnel bypass at Devils Slide. And a 15-year effort to repave I-80 from the Bay Area to Reno smoothed out perhaps the state's bumpiest highway.
"I think it is absolutely fair to declare 2013 the biggest year for large-scale regional transportation improvements since the 1930s," said John Goodwin, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, citing the opening of the original Bay Bridge (1936), the Golden Gate (1937) and the original two bores of the Caldecott (1937).
Added Randy Iwasaki, executive director of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority: "This certainly has been a great year in terms of mega-project ribbon cuttings."
There's more, although some improvements are not as visible to motorists.
Seismic retrofitting on all state-owned bridges has been completed. The Valley Transportation Authority expanded its express bus service, and ridership has surged as much as 19 percent. Extra lanes on Highway 84 have brought some relief between I-580 and I-680.
And numerous commuters have noticed, with some going out of their way to check out the upgrades.
"Seeing the Bay Bridge in all its glory is on my bucket list," said Jamene Toelkes, of Brentwood. "I do not travel to San Francisco very often, especially at night, due to age. But I do want to see the lighted bridge."
Mareth Ellis, a daily commuter through the Caldecott Tunnel, says the new bore is "gorgeous." "It has changed my life," said the Oakland resident. "My only disappointment is that they didn't have fireworks and a marching band to celebrate its magnificence. I love it."
Some motorists remain disgruntled by the removal of all toll takers on the Golden Gate. But an increasing number are asking when toll booths will be gone from other bridges.
"Why is it that when the new span of the Bay Bridge was completed, several toll booths were not removed and replaced with FasTrak lanes?" asked Greg Bacigalupi, of Martinez. "The FasTrak express lanes at the new toll booth complex on the 680 north span of the Martinez-Benicia bridge are great. You simply keep driving at highway speeds, and the camera beeps when you pass through."
While congestion seems poised to get worse, for some the commute is not as bad.
Mark Crane has been riding the Highway 17 express bus for five years.
"You can snooze, read, listen to music, email, research or read the latest Roadshow column," he said. "You can text and even talk on your cellphone."
Now, that's not a bad way to get to the office.
Contact Gary Richards at 408-920-5335.