BART and Bolts

A couple of unrelated Bay Area transportation-related updates today.

First, a quick update on BART for those who are interested: the strike lasted essentially all of last week. Service resumed at 3pm Friday, too late in the day to do much for the afternoon commute. There is no settlement. The union members have returned to work while negotiations continue. State mediators pushed both sides to agree to extend the current contract for 30 days. Both sides continue to claim that an agreement isn’t close and that the other is negotiating in bad faith. Neither side is doing much to boost their image with the general public.

My prediction: There will not be a new agreement by the time the extension expires. Workers will strike again on 31 July, and an agreement will be reached over the following weekend.


In Bay Bridge Bolt Botch news, it appears that Labor Day is off the table for opening the new bridge. So are Columbus Day and Halloween. Ditto Veterans Day and Thanksgiving.

Caltrans gave a closed-door briefing to state legislators yesterday, and an official announcement is planned for tomorrow. The word coming out of yesterday’s briefing is that constructing and installing the “saddle” to anchor the seismic stabilizers will take until December 10. We’ve discussed the saddle in the past. It’s intended to serve the same function as the snapped bolts, and will add only $10,000,000 to the cost of the bridge. A true bargain for the sense of security it will provide! I’m sure we’ll all feel much happier about driving over the bridge with the saddle in place.

Oh, and the other 2,000+ bolts? Caltrans is still testing them. On Sunday, our friend Jaxon quotes a corrosion expert as saying that the sort of simulated aging tests being done are “a roll-of-the-dice kind of thing” in terms of their ability to give an accurate picture of the long-term condition of the materials. He also quotes a UC Berkeley materials science professor as saying that the tests are unlikely to provide any new information. He says “You know what it is going to prove? That high-strength steel is susceptible to hydrogen-assisted cracking.” I find it interesting that the testing is intended to simulate aging over a ten year period. The new bridge is supposed to have a 150 year useful lifespan.

Jaxon was apparently unavailable to write today’s article on the report to the legislature. That was done by Michael Cabanatuan in Tuesday’s paper. In regard to the bolts that haven’t cracked, Michael quotes the report as saying that based on inspections done to date, the installation of the saddle will be sufficient to allow the bridge to open. 740 bolts will need to be replaced, but that can be done “after the span opens”. How reassuring. Why not replace them now? After all, it’s going to take three months to get the saddle installed. Is there a reason not make use of that time?

The report, by the way, also addresses the question of responsibility. Says Michael, “Caltrans, bridge designers T.Y. Lin International/Moffatt & Nichol Design Joint Ventrue and bridge builder American Bridge/Fluor Joint Venture share responsibility for the rod failures, the report concludes.” I’ve got news for you, Michael: one cannot hold a corporation or public agency as a whole responsible for anything. Responsibility vests in individuals.

I’ve been saying for weeks now that some specific people should have signed off on the design, the choice of materials, and the manufacture and installation of the parts. Either those signoffs were never given, or they’ve all been mislaid. Regardless of which scenario is more likely or which actually occurred, it’s the people who signed off or should have signed off but didn’t who should be identified as “responsible”.

Maybe we’ll get more information when the report is formally released tomorrow, though I doubt it. As Wikipedia tells us, collective responsibility “often breeds distrust and isolation…and is almost always a sign of authoritarian tendencies in the institution or its home society.” This is a situation where Caltrans, the contractors, and the legislature need to build trust, and blaming anonymous members of largely faceless corporate entities will not do that.

What if they built a bridge and nobody drove over it? If BART has settled its strike by December, we may very well see a huge spike in BART ridership at the expense of automobile and AC Transit’s Transbay bus service.

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