Official Fingerpointing Stage Begins as Deadline Passes for Bay Bridge Repairs

Thursday, January 01, 2015

The December 31 deadline for final touchups on the 16-month-old, $6.4-billion San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge span replacement has passed, with the good cheer of the New Year about to give way to talk of incomplete repairs, undetermined billings and dicey lawsuits.

American Bridge/Fluor, the project’s main contractor, won’t be completing repairs agreed to in July when the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) was fielding complaints about misaligned rods, rusting steel and leaking infrastructure. There was loose talk back then of a $25,000-a-day fine if the $3 million contract for repairs fell short.

Right now, there is just grumbling.

After the deal was struck, additional problems surfaced, including one involving 60 flooded rods anchoring the main tower. The San Francisco Chronicle said the contractor is still working on that and other tasks. Who will pay for the cost overruns is a matter of speculation. The bridge opened a decade late and $5 billion over budget.

Caltrans could deduct it from the contracted payment—and end up in court. Randy Rentschler, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, told the Chronicle that way is fraught with peril. “You can take it up to a more classic court-type case, but Caltrans’ history on this isn’t very good,” he said. “They end up paying most of these disputed cases.”   

Andrew Fremier, deputy executive director of the Bay Area Toll Authority, told the Sacramento Bee that 900 bolt holes for guard rails continue to leak, causing a pooling of water in chambers that can contribute to high humidity and rust. “You obviously don’t want water in the splay chambers,” Fremier said.

But there it is and looks like it will remain for a while. The chambers are meant to be dry because humidity above 40% is a rust threat. Caltrans is using dehumidifiers to keep the level at 38%.

Although Caltrans is wrestling with these repairs, it essentially closed the book on concerns that more than 2,000 critical rods and anchor bolts would hold up in an earthquake. The yearlong study was ordered when 32 such bolts snapped in March 2013.

The report, which was approved by the Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee, said the bridge parts would last the full 150-year life of the span. An independent critique of the project from retired metallurgist Yun Chung disagreed. His report questioned the reliability of Caltrans testing and recommended the bolts be replaced.

Several reviewers of Chung’s report—from academia and industry, and unaffiliated with Caltrans—submitted comments praising it and criticizing Caltrans for inclusion in the committee’s report. 

Charles J. McMahon Jr ., professor emeritus of materials science and engineering at the University of Pennsylvania , called Caltrans' testing “so defective that it's useless.”

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Legal Battle Looms Between Caltrans, Contractor over Bay Bridge Botches (by Marlize van Romburgh, San Francisco Business Times)

New Bay Bridge Still Leaks Despite Efforts to Plug Holes (by Charles Piller, Sacramento Bee)

Bay Bridge Contractor Facing Possible Fines for Unfinished Work (by Jaxon Van Derbeken, San Francisco Chronicle)

Caltrans Certifies Bay Bridge Anchor Rods as Safe (by Charles Piller, Sacramento Bee)

Report Says Caltrans “Gagged and Banished” Critics of Bay Bridge Project (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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