Bay Bridge Bolt Botch X

A significant Bay Bridge Bolt Botch update in less than 400 words?

You bet!

We had two articles from our friend Jaxon over the weekend that show that the Bay Bridge’s problems date back to the design phase. Documents released by Caltrans show an ongoing pattern of issues being raised then minimized or ignored.

Saturday’s article shows that bolts were improperly prepared on at least two occasions. One set of bolts was cleaned with brake cleaner prior to galvanization instead of being sand-blasted as per the contract. The sub-contractor stated that the use of brake cleaner had been authorized by the primary contractor, Dyson Corp., but could not produce documentation of the authorization because of a “computer issue”. A different sub-contractor “touched up” flaws in the galvanization with an aerosol product despite a general Caltrans ban on the use of aerosol galvanization. In both cases the rods were accepted despite the incorrect preparation.

Sunday, Jaxon informed us that the potential problems of hardened, galvanized steel were raised during the design phase in January 2003. In-house steel experts pointed out that such bolts were “prone to cracking in a moist marine environment…and shouldn’t be used.” The design team and Caltrans officials overrode Caltrans’ own rules to follow a suggestion from a sales manager at Dyson Corp. She pointed out that similar galvanized bolts had been used two years earlier in a seismic refit of the Richmond/San Rafael bridge. Caltrans’ corrosion expert agreed that, based on the earlier bridge’s results, the bolts in question could work, but specific tests for strength and flexibility should be performed on delivery. No evidence that those tests were conducted has been found. The steel experts who originally raised the concern about the bolts were not consulted in making the decision. During the bidding process, two manufacturers flat out refused to bid due to their concerns about the use of galvanized steel in a marine environment, but even that didn’t cause Caltrans to reconsider.

That stupidity is contagious is well-known. The founder of the firm that came up with the unique “self-anchored” design hated it. When it was chosen in 1998, he was quoted as saying “This will be building a monument to stupidity.” It’s been down hill all the way since then.

One final thought from the principal architect: “I assume it is safe. I honestly don’t know much about the bolts. That’s engineering.”

(398 words)

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