Last weekend, one of America’s great transportation achievements, the Golden Gate Bridge, turned 75. Thousands turned out for observances throughout San Francisco honoring one of the world’s most iconic bridges.
Photo courtesy Lance Iversen, SF Chronicle
However, had the fierce opposition to the proposed crossing been more effective, this national icon might never have been built, hundreds of construction workers would never have been employed, and tens of thousands of vehicles and their passengers each day would not have a direct crossing into one of America’s signature cities.
Until the Bridge’s opening in 1937, ferry service was the only means of crossing between San Francisco and Marin County. At their peak, boats carried more than 40 million passengers across the bay each year. But as more and more cars hit America’s streets in the 1920s, the ferries were overwhelmed with traffic. The Bay Area needed a 20th century solution.
The bridge was an engineering marvel. Two towers climbed 750 feet high with a 4,200-foot span suspended between them. For nearly three decades, that span remained the world’s longest. But at the time it was proposed, naysayers repeatedly challenged the engineers’ claims that such a span could be built.
Propelled by the vision of Joseph Strauss, engineer Charles Ellis and others created a design. And with 1,200,000 rivets, 80,000 miles of spliced wire, and 254 steel ropes suspending the deck from the cables, the bridge’s builders made it work.
Since then, more than 2 billion vehicles have crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge has more than made good on its planners’ traffic projections, carrying more than 50,000 vehicles each day.
The Golden Gate Bridge embodies the best of American vision, engineering, and workmanship. And those same qualities would be demonstrated 20 years later when President Eisenhower began the ambitious project to build America's interstate highway system.
At that time, existing roads--like the Bay Area ferries earlier in the century--were getting more and more crowded. President Eisenhower recognized the need to improve our ability to move people and cargo more effectively.
Whenever you attempt to do big things, there are going to be naysayers. Some said the system would be impossible to engineer. The costs would bankrupt the nation. Traffic estimates were inflated. But highway advocates persevered, and we built an interstate system that became an icon of America's economic capabilities.
Today, California faces a similar challenge: growing congestion threatens to choke existing ways of getting people and goods where they need to go.
Fortunately, it also has visionary leaders to help the state achieve a solution. 75 years later it’s time to think big once again and invest in high-speed rail for California’s economic future. Yes, there are critics and naysayers opposed to this important project. And the California High Speed Rail Authority is doing the right thing by listening to them and working to address their concerns. But we won’t let them stand in the way of a 21st century solution.
It's time to make room for another icon of American ingenuity. High speed rail—with the thousands of jobs it will create, the sustainable mobility it will deliver, and the economic development it will boost—is coming.