Workers discover loose Bay Bridge joint 'by chance'

December 8, 2009 5:31:28 PM PST
The overnight freeze may have caused a potentially dangerous situation on the Bay Bridge.

A connector joint that holds sections of the roadway on the upper deck together started to come loose about half-way up the incline between the Oakland toll plaza and the cantilever section. The Bay Bridge is acting its age, which in this case, is relatively old. Caltrans says repairs like the ones they made on Tuesday are not uncommon.

Two of the steel plates that are clamped onto the roadway approximately every 300 feet came loose. Workers had to re-weld the loose joint. Caltrans says inspectors doing their nightly check of the eyebar repair noticed the welds coming loose. Three lanes of the upper deck had to be closed from 4 a.m. to 6 a.m. and traffic was a nightmare.

"It's age really," said Caltrans spokesman Bart Ney. "There are six joints that we're looking at replacing next month and this was one of them."

The bridge and its broken joint are 73-years-old. A joint failure would not have caused the whole bridge to fail, but could have damaged cars and caused accidents.

"Commuters that have been commuting on the bridge for a long time know that it's an old bridge and there are constant maintenance issues that we're working on," Ney said. "A 73-year-old bridge, kind of like a 73-year old person, constantly needs to be looked at."

The bridge has already outlived its expected lifespan. Bridges are built to last about 70 years. The new one should be done in the next 3 to 4 years.

In September, a cracked eyebar was also found by chance. Unlike the joint Tuesday, its failure could have been catastrophic. Its first repair failed in October and Caltrans is getting ready to start installing a more permanent second fix beginning Friday night.

Metropolitan Transportation Commission Spokesman Randy Rentschler says the Bay Bridge repairs are reminders we cannot postpone infrastructure upgrades without consequences. He is an advocate of increasing the gas tax to help cover caring for our aging and neglected roads, highways and bridges.

"Part of it is our country has to get serious about maintaining our infrastructure. We've had a good run. We've had a free lunch for a long, long time" he said Tuesday. "I know it's a lousy time to pay for the free lunch now. I get that. But, in part, what you're seeing our symptoms of something that's been going on for decades."

Motorists who use the bridge late at night, overnight or in the early morning hours are reminded that there will be delays on the upper deck and possibly on the lower deck when eyebar repairs begin Friday night.


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