Caltrans sets decision date for new Bay Bridge

May 29, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
We won't know until July whether the new span of the Bay Bridge will open as scheduled on Labor Day weekend.

On Wednesday, an oversight committee laid out its requirements for selecting an opening date and aired some dirty laundry at the same time.

Transportation officials are clearly feeling the pressure for better transparency. They're coming to the realization that public confidence could be harder to repair than broken bolts.

The Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee says its needs three things before settling on an opening date. First is the completion of the written investigation into broken bolts. Second is a firm schedule for completion of the broken bolt retrofit. And third is a decision on what to do about the rest of the 2,300 or so suspect bolts now being tested.

"Labor Day is still the goal, but the test results and the retrofit schedule will determine whether we meet that goal or have to meet another goal," said MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger.

Testing of the broken bolts is done, but tests on the rest of them won't be finished until late June, with one test going into July. "It is a test that lasts for approximately 25 days and it involves a saltwater bath. It would again, simulate that long-term corrosive environment so that we can see how the metal reacts to that," explained Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty.

The oversight committee also unexpectedly ran down a list of what it called "construction challenges" the project has had over the years including bad welds in the tower base, corroded skyway tendons, and one new one -- the alignment of the suspension deck and the Yerba Buena Island deck was off by a couple of inches. They say they've already corrected those problems.

Chief Engineer Brian Maroney explained that 99 percent of the time, they get either better than expected materials or can easily exchange the subpar.

"Then about something less than one percent of the time, we get something we don't want and we actually have to tear it out, replace it, repair it, or go buy another one. And, it's that last one percent that I think the POC has asked me to tell you about," he said.

"A project of this scale is so big and complicated, that you encounter a lot of challenges," Heminger said.

Heminger says the drop-dead date for a Labor Day go or no-go decision is July 10.

An independent review board will be taking a look at all of the problems on the new Bay Bridge to make Caltrans more transparent to the public.

"Very recently public confidence has gone way down," said consultant Bart Ney. He says Caltrans knows how to fix the bridge, but they need help communicating with the public. "What's much more difficult is a public confidence issue and that's going to take a little bit more time. You have to earn people's trust."

ABC7 News reporter Alan Wang contributed to this report.

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