It's an engineering riddle turned Embarrassment, with a capital E.
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"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.
Welcome to #TransbayTransitCenter commute madness at 5pm. Building closed. Fremont Street, too. Cracked beams create engineering riddle and embarrassment. How did this happen to SF’s newest, glitziest gem? #abc7now pic.twitter.com/03JfnWmT1U— Wayne Freedman (@WayneFreedman) September 27, 2018
"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
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.
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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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