Bay Bridge construction raises major questions 

click to enlarge Bay Bridge
  • mike koozmin/2013 s.f. Examiner file photo
  • A state Senate committee report accuses Caltrans managers of faulty oversight regarding problematic steel and bolts.
Troubling new questions have been raised about the construction of the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge, and if the allegations in the report hold true there needs to be accountability at the highest levels.

On Wednesday, the California Senate Transportation and Housing Committee released a report about the new $6.3 billion span questioning the quality of workmanship, including the durability of welds and the now-infamous large bolts for a piece of the seismic safety equipment. Although none of the workmanship is said to make the bridge unsafe, the report stated that parts of the span could need expensive retrofitting quicker than they should.

The path to the opening of the new span was fraught with roadblocks. The fight over the bridge — built to replace the old span, which had a section collapse during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake — included debates about what type of structure to build. Eventually, a self-anchored suspension span was selected.

As the opening of the bridge neared, a series of bolts that held seismic safety equipment in place pulled loose while workers tightened them. The report found that Caltrans managers did not reject the bolts despite a lack of testing for quality assurance. Instead, the managers “resolved the situation by changing the specifications on the bolt fabrication contract and then accepted them ‘as is,’” the report found.

Caltrans rectified the bolt issue with a $25 million fix — a costly upgrade for a new bridge.

Also in the report are allegations from engineers that steel manufactured in China was not welded to the standards set for the bridge. The report said the company that rejected steel pieces with cracks in the welds was later replaced by another firm.

A Caltrans spokesman said the agency will address the report during a meeting with the committee today.

The allegations raised in the report should not be taken lightly. The bridge, paid for by taxpayers and drivers through tolls, should have been built to the exact specifications — which should have made it a safe, sturdy bridge that will last for decades. If it becomes apparent that there were any improprieties or malfeasance by any party involved in the bridge building, they should be addressed immediately.

One would hope that any problems that have surfaced with the construction of the bridge were a series of minor mistakes or oversights that led to a larger issue. If there was a major oversight or mistake that will end up costing taxpayers pricey fixes in the future, those who were in charge of oversight need to be held responsible.

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