You’ve heard the legend: as soon as painters finish recoating the entire Golden Gate Bridge with paint, they start doing it all over again.
That’s not exactly true according to Fred Mixton, the paint superintendent for the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District. But it is a bit closer to the truth than you might think.
“We are continuously painting, but it might not go one end to the other,” Mixton said. “We were on the southern approach, and now we are going to the northern approach, back span.”
Mixton said that the engineering department regularly inspects the almost million ton, 1.7 mile long bridge that connects San Francisco with Marin County, and identifies which areas should be priorities for reinforcement and repainting.
As a helpful video from the bridge district explains, step one is to remove old paint and rust via sandblasting, step two is to make repairs and apply primer and step three is to paint on International Orange, the official color of the bridge, starting at rivets, edges and bolts.
“We put an extra coat on the edges so they don’t fail,” Mixton said.
Mixton said that the milieu of chemicals means workers have to wear a respirator and get tested each year.
All this work happens in 70-foot-by-70-foot containment platforms erected to hold the workers and prevent pollution of the environment.
The bridge requires so much painting because of the salt content of the air and water around the bridge, which causes rust and steel corrosion.
“If you could see some of the steel before we get in there — it’s a mess,” Mixton said.
Paolo Cosulich-Schwartz, the public affairs manager for the district, said that last year alone 2,590 gallons of paint were used. The International Orange color paint is provided by Sherwin-Williams.
Mixton oversees some 28 painters, but they aren’t the only ones necessary to complete the mammoth task, which also requires engineers, ironworkers, operational engineers, electricians, laborers and carpenters.
“It takes every trade to do what we do,” Mixton said. “It takes a village. It’s tough.”
There are 13 ironworkers, three pusher ironworkers and five painter laborers.
There wasn’t much repainting until 1965, when the effects of corrosion became clearly visible, leading to a 30-year project to remove and replace the original lead-based paint on the bridge.
Mixton himself has been working on Bay Area bridges for three decades, first working with Caltrans, and has been the superintendent at the Golden Gate Bridge for “a little over 12 years.”
“I started off as a bridge painter, just working my way up the ladder,” Mixton said.