Bay Bridge problems may be unavoidable

October 28, 2009 7:25:54 PM PDT
Caltrans engineers are working on several design enhancements to the Bay Bridge right now to make sure accidents like Tuesday's do not happen again, but many experts say some things are bound to go wrong, given the age of the bridge.

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It was just seven weeks ago when the eyebar problem was first discovered and a repair was quickly completed.

But some people questioned the speed at which the repair was done.

"I was surprised and amazed when they got it done so fast," William Ibbs said. Ibbs is a professor of engineering at the University of California, Berkeley and a designer in his own right.

He was not the only expert Wednesday, who looked at a patch that broke, and wonders what happened.

"The design could have been flawed, the welding could have been flawed, the recent winds that we've had might have contributed to some of the problem," Ibbs said.

When the Bay Bridge was built in the 1930s it was a marvel. But nothing lasts forever. Now, in engineering lifespans, the cantilever section is about middle age and no person, or object, goes that long without maintenance.

"I don't mean to be a scaremonger, but you've got a 75-year-old bridge that has gone through earthquakes and storms and high winds and 250,000 cars a day going across it," Ibbs said.

The closure has inconvenienced people, but for all the complaints, when the bridge failed this time, the Bay Area was lucky.

"Imagine if that had been in the morning and the bridge had been jam packed with cars going into San Francisco; that type of whip, that type of cable could have easily hurt dozens of people," Ibbs said.

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