Locals say they warned Caltrans of deteriorating overpass

Traffic on the busy Nimitz Freeway was moving freely underneath the 23rd Avenue overpass Tuesday, a major change from a chaotic Monday night when several tons of steel guard rail and cyclone fence fell to the busy freeway below.  

The incident on I-880 occurred at about 6:30 p.m. Joe Bravo watched it happen out of his front car window as it unfolded.

"We were heading south on 880 and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, you see this plume of smoke that arises, that billows in the air, remembered Bravo. And, all of a sudden, all you see is vehicle debris, what appeared to be vehicles debris, scattered in the air on both sides of 880, north and south corridor."

Bravo continued: "As we got a little bit closer we realized that what is was that there was actually a guard rail that was actually draped over quite a few cars on the south side. And on the north side there was a vehicle that appeared to be on fire."

This now infamous overpass still has a partially leaning guard rail fence on the other side. But Caltrans says the overpass was inspected last February by its structures maintenance engineers who allowed it to continue normal operation.

That same division was inspecting the damage Tuesday.

"A structures maintenance engineers is out there inspecting it right now.  These are the guys that do the inspections of all structures once every two years and they're basically also the structures detectives," said Caltrans Chief Spokesman Bob Haus.

Two nearby neighbors told KTVU they noticed the failing fence two months ago.

"We were just waiting for it because you could see that it was bad. It's all rotted out. It had holes in it from people hitting on it but they never fixed it. They just put a Band Aid on it," said the neighbor, who calls himself Joe.

They say they even notified Caltrans contractor two months ago.

"I called them up, they said, 'What can I help you with?' And I said, 'A portion of the fence that's on the 23rd Avenue bridge. It's leaning and it's about to fall. You guys should come out and inspect it.' 'OK, we'll send somebody out.' And what happened? Nothing," said Joe's neighbor, who calls himself Bill.

The early warning that the men claim Caltrans ignored brings up possible troubles that eyewitness Bravo said might affect countless other overpasses.

"It kind of raises a question for me how that if a gust of wind can essentially knock over a guard rail off a freeway overpass onto I-880, what else could be suffered in say, a 7.0 earthquake?" asked Bravo.

Caltrans says the overpass was scheduled to be totally replaced by 2018.