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Unparalleled bridge, unprecedented cost

When completed, the new east span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge will be not only the most complex engineering feat in California history, but also the most expensive, with a cost never subjected to public scrutiny. Although today’s price tag stands at $6.3 billion, the figure accounts for only salaries and hard materials—things like concrete and steel and cranes. When all is said and done, the new Bay Bridge will wind up costing tax- and toll-payers more than $12 billion—a figure that leaves even the officials in charge “staggered.”

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Building the bay’s signature span

When all the pieces are finally welded together and tethered by the main suspension cable, the Bay Bridge east span will be not just a new American icon, but also a truly global monument. From the enormous solid steel castings of cable saddles, brackets and bands being forged in Japan and England to the gigantic bearings and hinges being manufactured in South Korea and Pennsylvania, fabrication of the bridge is under way in seven foreign countries and in more than two dozen American cities, including 12 in California.

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The fine print: Interest doubles total price tag

Overall cost estimates have been presented to the public in annual reports and press briefings, but the cost of interest on money borrowed to pay for construction has not been included.

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A timeline of the old and new Bay Bridge east span

The Bay Bridge Report was produced Dec. 8, 2009, in collaboration with the San Francisco Panorama newspaper, which was published by McSweeney’s. Help fund this story and others like it at Spot.Us.

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Graphic illustration: the Bay Bridge

The east span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in graphic illustration. Design by Eleven: Greg Hathaway, Darlene Gibson, Stella Trenggono & Liz Gershman.

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How Wall Street profits from bridge building

The Bay Area Toll Authority has the unique power to raise bridge tolls without the Legislature’s approval, which it has done repeatedly to pay off the $6.9 billion bond debt amassed so far to build the new Bay Bridge and upgrade six other spans. That makes BATA particularly attractive to Wall Street, which has pocketed more than $122 million in fees to arrange the borrowing.

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