It’s been three weeks since I last wrote about the Bay Bridge Bolt Botch, and I’ll bet some you thought – or even hoped – I had forgotten about it. No such luck and my apologies to those of you who find these posts boring. The truth is just that things have been pretty quiet for the bridge, at least from a QA standpoint. But let’s go ahead and get caught up.
On 1 June, our good buddy Jaxon shared the information that more than 600 bolts are harder than the level set by John Fisher, who Jaxon calls a “renowned civil engineer” and who is, not coincidentally, a member of the independent panel reviewing the state of the bridge. The number of potentially-problematic rods comes from pre-installation testing and purchase records, not from current field tests; many of the bolts in question are inaccessible and cannot be field tested. This article also notes that simulated corrosion and aging tests are being done now, and are expected to be complete “by late July.”
A few days later, Matier & Ross broke the news that Caltrans’ Chief Deputy Director Richand Land will be assigned full-time to the Bay Bridge to provide ongoing liason to Caltrans headquarters for all of the reviews going on. The move is touted as offering the public a high level of confidence, since Land is a licensed engineer. Speaking as a member of the public, I find that less than reassuring, given that we still don’t know which engineers signed off on the unfixable bridge design and the use of the overly hard rods in the first place.
Meanwhile, on the 4th, the Chron ran an independent editorial opinion from Bill Wattenburg, who was responsible for blocking deployment of BART’s train control system in the face of safety concerns. Wattenburg reiterates many of the questions we’ve been asking all along regarding approvals and signoffs, and also calls for a totally independent review instead of the current review by a team selected by Caltrans. He also raises one interesting point I haven’t seen before: Caltrans has not revealed what magnitude of earthquake has been used in simulated testing of the current design. Was it the same as the 1989 Loma Prieta quake, or something higher?
Word of the Bolt Botch continues to spread. Sunday’s New York Times ran a fairly piece on the situation. The article itself doesn’t have a whole lot of information we haven’t seen before – although it does note that a decision whether to open the new bridge on time must be made by 10 July, the first time I’ve seen a specific date for the decision cited* – but it does have an accompanying graphic that gives the best explanation I’ve seen for the “saddle” fix for attaching the seismic shear keys. The NYT also quotes oversight panel member John Fisher as being optimistic about meeting the Labor Day weekend opening.
* Actually, that appears to be an error by the NYT. As I said in an earlier post, July 10 is the date by which Caltrans must make a decision on making a fix, not making the decision about when the bridge will open.
A lot of jokes, few of them actually funny, have been made about a proposal to name half of the bridge for former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown. The resolution introduced to the state assembly would rename the western half of the bridge (which has already been seismically refitted, and does not apparently have any bolt issues), leaving the eastern half sole possession of the name “San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge”. As noted in one of the earliest posts on the bridge, Brown was one of the leading figures in delaying the construction of the new bridge through insisting on an iconic design, and was also one of the first voices heard calling the bolt problem a “PR disaster”. As far as I can tell, he’s been silent on whether he wants his name associated with said PR disaster.
One final note for today: The similarly trouble-plagued floating Rt 520 bridge in Seattle is now sending its cracked pontoons to Portland for repairs. Maybe somebody in Portland would be willing to take on the task of fixing the Bay Bridge too? At least Portland has a major port that bridge segments could be shipped into. Think about it, folks: based on the work done so far, it could be a boon to Portland’s economy for decades to come.