Pursuing the Technological Sublime: How the Eastern Span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge Became a Megaproject
ACCESS: The Magazine of UCTC
The new eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, set to open on the Labor Day weekend, is a classic instance of a megaproject, not just because of its huge complexity, protracted timeline and “mega” cost (some $6.5 billion). It is also a textbook embodiment of what I have identified as the “six C’s” of a typical megaproject: colossal, captivating, costly, controversial, complex, and subject to issues of control. These are interrelated and evolve as a megaproject develops, as was the case with the new eastern span.
Here, Frick focuses on how the “captivating” and “colossal” characteristics affected the bridge design process and implementation. Captivating and colossal projects engage and stimulate participation by a broad set of stakeholders and citizens, whose varied perspectives and inputs are difficult to accommodate without controversy and conflict. Historian David Nye similarly considered these characteristics emblematic of pursuit of what he termed the technological sublime. The technological sublime inspires feelings of “awe and wonder, often tinged with an element of terror, which people have had when confronted with particular natural sites, architectural forms and technological achievements." The pursuit of this feeling of the sublime helps explain many of the underlying motivations and rhetorical tenor of the design process for the eastern span.
Dr. Karen Trapenberg Frick is Assistant Director of the University of California Transportation Center. She also is a lecturer in the Department of City and Regional Planning and teaches graduate and undergraduate classes in transportation policy and planning, and she is the academic lead for CED's [IN]CITY summer program in sustainable city planning. She holds a Ph.D. in city planning from UC Berkeley and a master's in planning from UCLA.