Rod failure on Bay Bridge calls for deeper inspection

Bolt used on the new span of the Bay Bridge.

May 3, 2013 8:30:19 PM PDT
The problems Caltrans is having with the new Bay Bridge are getting worse. The failure of 32 rods on the new Bay Bridge in March has led to an investigation of more than 2,000 of them. How that will affect the countdown to the bridge's scheduled opening is unclear. That date is down to just 122 days.

Caltrans is still trying to decide on the best repair plan for those 32 broken rods and now the investigation with those rods has expanded, so they have an even bigger problem on their hands.

The galvanized, high-strength rods are produced in a way that makes them susceptible to breaking in a marine environment.

Of the more than 2,300 installed on the self-anchored suspension bridge, only 32 have broken, but Caltrans is now reviewing quality control tests for all of them and doing additional testing.

In 2004, Caltrans updated its bridge design specifications, or manual, banning the use of this type of bolt. Yet they were installed four years later. Still, Caltrans says using them was perfectly acceptable.

"Manuals for building anything, but particularly bridges, get updated often. Some get updated annually and if we stopped and changed the material every time there was an update, we'd still be designing this bridge, not building it," said Andrew Gordon from Caltrans.

The review of the suspect rods is the latest in a series of construction fumbles that would seem to threaten the scheduled Labor Day weekend opening, but that decision hasn't been made yet.

"Vehicles will not be put on the structure until we have determined it is 100 percent safe," said Gordon.

Former Caltrans spokesman and ABC7 News Bay Bridge consultant Bart Ney says it's not just the contractor and Caltrans monitoring the work, there are third party inspectors as well. Caltrans should be able to explain to the taxpayers what happened.

"There has been thorough inspection on this and I think what the agencies have to answer is 'Why were these types of bolts chosen?'" said Ney.

Dan McNichol is a kind of third-party, not an inspector, but a writer. He wrote a best-selling book about Boston's Big-Dig. He has a construction map of the $23 billion transportation project in his Emeryville condo and a mock-up of the Bay Bridge book he has researched and hopes to write. He says what's happening on the bridge now, is typical of megaprojects. The Big Dig was done in segments and the opening day for every one of them was delayed.

"California is no longer a pioneer in land or territory, it's a pioneer in technology and this bridge and Caltrans is the owner of it, pushing the edge of engineering, on a magnificent scale," said Nichol.

We might get an answer to the burning question if the bridge will open as scheduled on Labor Day weekend, on May 8 at a status meeting with all of the relevant agencies at the MTC office in Oakland.


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