Officials meet over Bay Bridge repair failure

January 12, 2010 6:42:32 PM PST
The head of Caltrans was called before state lawmakers on Tuesday, demanding to know how a 5,000-pound piece of the Bay Bridge collapsed onto drivers below and what's being done to make sure it never happens again.

Lawmakers in Sacramento asked tough questions of Caltrans Director Randell Iwasaki about the failed repair of a cracked Bay Bridge eyebar that nearly killed rush-hour commuters last October.

"Fortunately, and I stress that, fortunately for all of us, no lives were lost," State Senator Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, said.

The hearing before the Senate Transportation Committee was held to gather information about why a steel saddle and heavy rods fell to the bridge deck.

"We cannot repeat this and we have to best understand how it all occurred," State Senator Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, said.

The structure that failed October 27 was put into place over the Labor Day weekend, after a six-inch crack was found in one of the eyebar systems.

The repair originally installed consisted of long steel tie-rods placed in a saddle system, not secured at the ends.

Caltrans revealed before the failure, inspectors saw the rods moving but decided not to close the bridge at that time.

Soon after, the system collapsed in high winds.

"Wind and vibration it seems to me should not have been a surprise," State Senator Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, said.

One key question from lawmakers is whether the design of the Labor Day fix drawn up by Caltrans engineers was ever reviewed by outside experts.

Caltrans also conceded there was no external review of the Labor Day repair. Iwasaki told lawmakers, he made sure the second fix got an outside look.

"I said I want an external peer review this time," he said.

The hearing did not produce any action, but did send a clear message about future expectations.

"Defer to safety, be conservative when you see these things, knowing all that we know about that bridge, you really have to be in the future," State Senator Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, said.

The current fix is designed to stay in place until 2013 when the new eastern span could be completed.