Civil engineering alum refers to basics learned at CSU for tough projects, including Bay Area Bridge

Colorado State University Emeritus Professor Marvin Criswell calls the eastern span of the Bay Bridge linking San Francisco to Oakland “Brian’s Bridge” in recognition of his former student Brian Maroney. Now the Caltrans toll bridge seismic retrofit program chief bridge engineer, Maroney filled critical roles throughout the bridge’s reconstruction after the Loma Prieta earthquake 30 years ago, when part of the eastern section’s upper deck collapsed onto the lower deck.

Maroney says Criswell isn’t the first to refer to the bridge by that moniker, though he prefers the Bay Area’s Bridge.

“It really has been an honor to have served the public,” Maroney said. “I took their trust very seriously, and I believe above all, that is what civil engineers are supposed to do.”

Maroney knew the bridge would be a challenge when public officials voted for the single-tower, self-anchoring suspension design. Because of the unique features of the site, many engineers recommended a single-towered, cable-stayed design instead. However, the bridge is a powerful symbol to area residents, and officials opted for the version that resembled welcoming, outstretched arms, with cables reaching out to the edges of the 10-lane deck, making it the widest bridge in the world.

The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge's East Bay crossing includes the longest single-tower self-anchored suspension span in the world, at 1,263 feet long. A 525-foot tall steel tower supports the span. Photo by Maurice Bircher
The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge’s East Bay crossing includes the longest single-tower self-anchored suspension span in the world, at 1,263 feet long. A 525-foot tall steel tower supports the span (Photo by Maurice Bircher).

“It takes a village to build a bridge, and in this case that village extended from the Bay Area to Sacramento to Washington D.C., and even to many places in the world,” Maroney said.

Maroney is no stranger to challenging projects. He and a crew once fabricated a 300-foot long, 10-lane, double-deck steel truss, erecting it next to the old bridge 125 feet in the air. Over a long weekend, they shut down Interstate 80 to replace the old truss, by lifting it onto supports, jacking it out and then jacking into place and connecting the new truss.

“We planned well, we designed well, we constructed well, so it all went well with a successful ending,” he said.

Another daunting task assigned to Maroney was deconstruction of an approximately half-mile long, three-span, continuous cantilever truss over the San Francisco Bay. Caltrans environmental staff asked Maroney to figure out a way to take down the truss without a single pile in the bay waters to support the center 1,400-foot span.

“We pulled off something pretty wild,” Maroney said. “We specified in the plans and specs that the contractor was to take off the weight of the center span decks, but keep the weight on the back spans (about 450 feet) and cut the truss in the middle. That left two 700-foot cantilevers to be removed piece by piece.”

Maroney praises the team of contractors and engineers on the project for working together to accomplish such a monumental feat. This kind of work, he said, couldn’t be done without supportive supervisors and his intelligent, hard-working staff.

Maroney’s aptitude for challenging projects was evident when he was a civil engineering student at Colorado State.

“I’ve had few students so interested in everything and eager for challenges,” said Criswell, Maroney’s former adviser and a member of the faculty team behind Maroney’s undergraduate education.

Maroney said he was lucky to be instructed and advised by Criswell, and he often references what he learned from his most influential instructor. Maroney’s projects frequently require an outside-the-box solution, and that means returning to the fundamentals, an approach he learned at Colorado State.

“I like to say that if you are applying a standard solution to a nonstandard problem, then you are probably making a mistake,” he said.

He uses the phrase both in his work for Caltrans and as an adjunct professor at UC Davis, where he obtained his doctorate. Maroney said teaching keeps him sharp on the fundamentals, and he believes everyone has some responsibility to the next generation, but the main reason he teaches is to repay Criswell and his mentors at UC Davis.

Demolition on the old East Bay Bridge, contrasted here against the new bridge, was completed in September 2018. Photo by Sam Burbank
Demolition on the old East Bay Bridge, contrasted here against the new bridge, was completed in September 2018 (Photo by Sam Burbank).

“When I teach class, I always think about [Criswell]. He was always prepared.”

Maroney said his degrees from CSU and UC Davis prepared him to work with engineers at all levels trained in schools all over the world.

“Looking back now, I would not have wanted any other universities,” he said. “I would hold my schools and education up against any.”