Clearing Bay Area traffic accidents in a timely manner a top priority for emergency responders

An early morning fatal accident snarled and gridlocked much of the San Francisco-bound commute for hour upon hour upon hour.

So many people ask, why does it take hours and hours to clear many accidents from the roadways?

At 4:30 a.m. Wednesday, a box truck carrying three workers rear ended a BART Early Bird Bus on the upper deck of the Bay Bridge.

The accident killed one of the truck passengers and severely injured the other two. It wasn't until almost 10 a.m. that the accident scene was cleared, creating a monumental traffic jam on the East Shore Freeway, the Nimitz and Highway 880 that lasted past noon infuriating many in the back up.

"Yeah. We definitely are aware," said California Highway Patrol Officer John Fransen who added, "We try not to completely shut down a freeway. So, we'll try and always give our motorists an open lane if we're able to do that."

A non-injury collision usually clears in a half hour or less.

Injury incidents go longer because there's often more damage to clear and paramedics must be called in to initially treat, then transport the patients to hospitals.

Fatals are very different. "That changes everything because we only have one time, one chance to be able to collect all the evidence we need to document this if it goes to court, whether it be criminal court or, ultimately, civil court as well," said Fransen.

Add to that, the legal requirement to summon a coroner's wagon, which itself is often caught up in the backup, but must also investigate and document any fatality.

But, any delay, dropped debris or a death costs time.

"Our calculations are that every minute that an incident occurs, leads to about 4 minutes of delay. So there's a real urgency to clear incidents as quickly as possible," said the Metropolitan Transportation Commission's John Goodwin.

One multi-agency coordinating group has the goal of clearing incidents as quickly as possible.

"There is a whole Incident Management Task Force that meets regularly. It's CHP. It's Caltrans. It's County Coroners; local law enforcement, local fire departments, AAA, the Federal Highway Administration all have a seat at the table," said Mr. Goodwin.

The MTC says accidents and spills, big and small, fully account for half of all freeway congestion.