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As we have noted several times, the new eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge was $5 billion over budget and ten years late. Despite all that time and money, safety issues with the bridge seem to be getting worse, as Jaxon Van Derbeken of the San Francisco Chronicle explains. For example, the high-strength steel rods that secure the base of the tower “show more widespread cracking than Caltrans officials had previously acknowledged.” Further, “rust and microscopic cracking were found after one of 424 fasteners intended to keep the tower from being damaged in an earthquake was removed for testing last year.” A “botched grouting and caulking job” left “many of the 25-foot-long fasteners stewing in water for several years.” And as Van Derbeken notes, cracks were also found at the top, a troubling development “because such cracks can get worse over time, leading to total failure, possibly during a quake.”
Caltrans bosses Will Kempton and Malcolm Dougherty told the reporter they had no record of overseeing the manufacturing process or testing the tower rods before they were installed. Chief engineer Brian Maroney lamented that Caltrans can’t even conduct ultrasonic tests that could reveal whether one of the tower rods has already snapped. And for Steve Heminger of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission it was the construction budget that was “under severe stress.”
Charles McMahon, professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania and an expert on steel embrittlement, told Van Derbeken that those in charge of the bridge were “clueless” on the selection of materials and “had no idea what they were doing. The whole thing is a disaster.” Such concerns emerged last year in Sacramento hearings, where whistleblowers called for a criminal investigation. None took place. Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, who conducted the hearings, has moved on to Congress. And as we observed, Tony Anziano, the lawyer who managed the bridge construction for Caltrans, has conveniently retired.
So here’s how it all adds up: $5 billion in excess costs, plus 10 years, equals an increasingly troubled bridge. And as Rep. DeSaulnier told reporters, “it’s frustrating that there’s never been anyone in the management of the bridge who has been held accountable.”