To hear the experts describe it, the Bay Area witnessed not one engineering feat last weekend, but two. The first feat was expected when they moved in the new section of the bridge. The second feat was the repair of the cracked beam, or more precisely, the speed of it.
Only on the Bay Bridge, and only in a world run by Caltrans, could a reopening two hours late, happen 22 hours early.
"Everything is perfect. The fix is in place,"
The fix that no one expected, following a repair project that commuters had dreaded. Caltrans knew that moving 7,000 tons of steel 150 feet through the air would get headlines. But the 6-inch crack in a supporting i-bar stole the show. Crews discovered it during a routine inspection which led to extraordinary patching measures.
"They were very fortunate that we found this," said civil engineer and UC Berkeley professor William Ibbs.
Ibbs says the two hours that commuters lost Tuesday morning probably saved them a two-day closure, had Caltrans found that crack later.
The fix is not a matter of safety as much as restoring safety margins.
"You'd like to have a cushion, and the cushion was not as thick as we would like to have it," said Ibbs.
The crack became controversial in its own right. How could it have existed without being seen until now? Caltrans says it wasn't there two years ago during an inspection. However, the department will not wait another two years to look again. It will assess this repair and hopefully the repair will hold.
"This fix will hold the bridge just fine," said Caltrans spokesperson Bart Ney. "But after the assessment, if something is determined where we need to replace an i-bar, then we would probably have to close the bridge."
All Caltrans says they need is for the repair they did to last until 2013 when the new section of the bridge opens. They will be checking it more frequently and insist the bridge is much safer today than it was last week.