San Francisco Salesforce Transit Center mystery: Is it the steel, welds or design? UC professor weighs in

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- From civic pride and triumph just last month to a commuting nightmare today. This is a ride that no one ever imagined for San Francisco's new Salesforce Transit Center.

It's an engineering riddle turned Embarrassment, with a capital E.

RELATED: How to get around during Salesforce Transit Center's temporary closure in San Francisco

"It is worrying. No question about it," said Dr. Robert Ritchie, who specialized in materials science at UC Berkeley. He studies why they work and sometimes fail. Causes often trace to the atomic scale.

The best-case scenario for the Transit Center, he says, would be that the beams are failing due to poor handling, perhaps in the welding phase. Even that would be no easy fix.

"They would have to look at every weld and structure to see if there are cracks there," Ritchie said.

We know that the largest crack is 2-6 inches across.

VIDEO: Officials address cracks found in steel beams at SF Salesforce Transit Center
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Officials revealed Wednesday that a second steel beam was found to have cracks on the third level of the Salesforce Transit Center in downtown San Francisco.

In one worst-case scenario, the building's design might be to blame. If the cause ultimately leads to steel in the beams not being up to spec, expect worse.

"That would be an ominous situation because it would question the whole structure," Ritchie said.

To put this in context, consider how this is not the first time recently that San Francisco has suffered from mistakes in major projects.

The eastern span of the new Bay Bridge developed corroded bolts.

RELATED: Commuters face gridlock nightmare after sudden closure of Salesforce Transit Center in SF

Muni laid down 3 miles of the wrong track in its new Central Subway.

And, while not a civil project, the leaning Millennium Tower stand directly adjacent to the new Transit Center. Their problems are probably not related, however, Ritchie says,

"We should, by now, reach the state of technology where these things don't happen but they still occur. We need to pay more attention to the materials."

In short, the Transit Terminal problem today is likely to become a case study for the future.

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