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The stylish new eastern span of the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge cost $6.4 billion, about $5 billion more than the original estimate, and came in ten years late. As we noted two years ago, all that time and money could not prevent hundreds of leaks during the first winter storm. A supposedly watertight steel chamber supporting the roadbed was leaking, and water also entering through guardrail holes for lights and service panels. Caltrans bosses were stumped and said that any solution would be “high maintenance.” About this time last year, the bridge continued to leak water inside the structure and efforts to caulk about 900 bolt holes had only been partly successful. Independent experts warned about corrosion and rust on strands of the main cable and anchor rods. Caltrans bosses didn’t want to talk about it, but in early 2016 they think they’ve got the problem whipped.
“After spending more than $1.4 million trying to plug leaks that put the cable of the Bay Bridge’s new eastern span at risk of corrosion,” writes Jaxon Van Derbeken in the San Francisco Chronicle, “Caltrans says it has finally hit on a fix that costs less than $100,000 — and has all but eliminated a problem that plagued the project for years.” Caltrans maintenance engineer Ken Brown explained that water was coming in through gaps on the roadway side of the guardrails and the application of industrial-grade caulking plugged up 90 percent of the leaks. Brown, however, still sought a longer-term fix and Berkeley corrosion expert Lisa Fulton said “we will have to wait and see,” whether Caltrans “got something right this time.” Taxpayers, meanwhile, have good reason to remain skeptical.
Since the leaks were not supposed to happen, the bridge’s design wasn’t exactly right. The new span was supposed to cost some $1.5 billion, not more than $6 billion, so costs were out of control. The new span was supposed to be safe but the problems persist. Congressman Mark DeSaulnier, who as a state senator held hearings on the bridge problems, is on record that “there’s never been anyone in the management of the bridge who has been held accountable.” The congressman has that right, so despite the industrial-grade caulking the stylish new span is still the bridge to no accountability.