I’m sure you’ll be delighted to hear that all of Caltrans’ problems with the Bay Bridge are solved.
No, really! It’s true! I read it in the newspaper, not some unreliable Internet blog.
OK, I’m exaggerating slightly. But there is good news on the BBBB front. Caltrans has covered the 192 at-risk bolts with “grease caps”. Those are containers full of, well, grease which fit over the ends of the bolts and protect them from the hydrogen that causes cracks. It’s a common technique in the bridge-building world, and–according to the experts who recommended it–should safely extend the life of the bolts. As long as they receive proper maintenance, of course. Somebody has to go out on the bridge every couple of years to inspect the caps and, I presume, add a little grease when levels get low.
Uh-oh. Isn’t a lack of properly documented inspections how Caltrans got into this mess in the first place? Well, we’ll take what we can get. At least it’s a cheap solution. The cost of the caps is under $200,000–a trivial amount compared to the rest of what we’re spending to keep the bridge standing.
Nor are the maintenance costs high. Caltrans recently released their report on plans for the long-term maintenance of the Bay Bridge, and even with the grease caps and rain leaks, the expense of the bridge’s annual dental cleaning and vaccinations will be within planned levels.
Mind you, Caltrans is screwed no matter what they do. They’re continuing their tests of the other 2,000 bolts that may be at risk. Why not? The $10,000,000 for the tests has already been allocated. So naturally, State Senator Mark DeSaulnier is complaining about wasted money, and demanding that Caltrans just put grease caps on all of the bolts. (The senator does not, as far as I can tell, have a background in engineering or testing. He’s got a BA in History and has worked in law enforcement, hospitality, and heavy equipment operation. Apparently this qualifies him to be head of the Senate’s transportation committee.)
As Caltrans spokesman Andrew Gordon pointed out, if they just put caps on all of the bolts, Caltrans would be criticized for taking the easy way out and “applying a one-size-fits-all solution”. It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for Caltrans. Until you remember that if they had been doing proper testing over the last ten years, they wouldn’t be in this position now.
Hey, Senator DeSaulnier! Now that Caltrans is testing and is documenting the results of the testing, leave them alone. Cut ’em some slack in the present, and focus on finding out who dropped the ball in the first place. That’s the guy (or rather, those are the whole metric butt-load of guys) who need to be answering questions about their conduct.