When construction workers begin taking apart the old Bay Bridge, they will have to contend with a squatter.
The Bay Bridge troll, a 14-inch-high, snarling iron sculpture, has lived beneath the upper deck of the eastern span of the bridge since workers completed repairs after the magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989.
The quake caused a 50-foot section of the bridge to collapse, resulting in one death and forcing construction of a massive new eastern span, which is expected to be complete in 2013.
Now, many Bay Area residents wonder what will become of the troll, whose powers are said to have protected the bridge, and the 280,000 cars that cross it daily, from further troubles.
“It never fails — if I go on a radio show or something, I’m talking about Chinese steel or whatever is the hot topic, and then someone will call up and say, ‘What’s going to happen to the troll?’” said Bart Ney, the California Department of Transportation spokesman who handles publicity for the new bridge. “Its fate is undetermined.”
The troll moved in without the permission of bridge authorities 22 years ago. Construction crews were working around the clock to repair the bridge when the ironworkers forging the replacement section thought to ask Bill Roan, an artist and fellow ironworker, to create a commemorative sculpture.
Roan went to the library to find an appropriate candidate.
“In ‘Billy Goats Gruff,’ there was a troll that lived under the bridge, and he was really mean and nasty to everyone,” Roan said. “But he took really good care of his bridge.”
As workers raced to complete the repairs, Roan worked for three nights straight to turn a piece of the collapsed bridge into the dark iron sculpture. Assuming that Caltrans would reject the idea, the group took Roan’s creation straight to the construction site.
Workers welded it into place, the troll’s long tongue snaking past a long spud wrench grasped by the troll’s webbed hands. The wrench was affixed to a bridge bolt. By the time officials in Sacramento heard of the action, it was too late.
Commuters cannot see the troll from their cars; it is underneath the deck on the northern side of the span. But it has accrued a small amount of fame: it is now a stop on the Bay Bridge tour and has a fan club on Facebook devoted to its preservation.
Other creatures on the old bridge have faced eviction, as well. The authorities have spent close to $500,000 on new perches for a colony of double-breasted cormorants. A falcon took matters into her own talons, briefly disrupting construction earlier this year when she abandoned her home on the old bridge and laid eggs on the new one.
By the end of this year, the committee that oversees the construction of the bridge will decide on the troll’s fate — either a new home at a museum or a spot at the new bridge.
“You know what? I don’t want evil spirits to come and haunt me, but I have more things to worry about than that,” said Bill Dodd, the Napa County supervisor and chairman of the committee. “But maybe that’s why we’ve been so darn fortunate to not have had an earthquake.”
This article also appears in the Bay Area edition of The New York Times.