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Attack of the Bridge-Eating Microbes?

Tuesday January 30th, 2018   •   Posted by K. Lloyd Billingsley at 11:42am PST   •  

According to an NBC report by Jaxon Van Derbeken, “Caltrans is investigating whether microscopic organisms are attacking critical welds on the submerged foundation of the new Bay Bridge tower, potentially endangering the projected 150-year lifespan of the troubled $6.4 billion structure.” Brian Maroney, Caltrans’ chief engineer on the project, told NBC that experts report “very small microorganisms that are feeding on iron.” For Caltrans “that’s really something new, and when it’s something new to us, we want to make sure we get on top of it as fast as we can.” Of course, the prospect of microbes chowing down on welds is not the only issue. As the NBC report notes, “this revelation is just the latest in a string of problems that have dogged the project, including cost overruns, flawed welds, broken bolts and pitted cables.”

As we noted, these problems were the subject of hearings in Sacramento in January, 2014. Witnesses testified that Caltrans bosses compromised public safety by ignoring problems with welds, bolts and rods. Caltrans also outsourced work to China, where workers produced cracked welds. Caltrans bridge engineer Douglas Coe testified that every one of the 750 panels had to be repaired. Caltrans geologist Michael Moore testified that safety problems were kept secret, ignored and covered up. Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, then a state senator overseeing the hearings, charged “a deliberate and willful attempt to obfuscate what is happening to the public” but failed to follow up on whistleblower’s call for a criminal investigation. “It’s frustrating that there’s never been anyone in the management of the bridge who has been held accountable.” DeSaulnier later lamented. And when apprised of the safety issues, governor Jerry Brown replied, “I mean, look, shit happens.”

In the 2014 hearing, nobody warned about the predatory microbes that Caltrans claims are now on the prowl. As they ponder the long-term risk, taxpayers and motorists might also recall that the bridge came in 10 years late and $5 billion over budget.

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January 2018