BBBB: Extra Innings

Finally, some significant action on the Bay Bridge.

There’s been a steady stream of small items–well, small when compared against the bridge’s $6 billion price tag–but nothing with any, you should excuse the expression, earthshaking implications. Until now.

But let’s do this chronologically to make sure we don’t leave out anything important.

Except as noted, all of my information comes from Jaxon Van Derbeken’s articles in the SF Chronicle. Yay for Jaxon!

On June 9, Jaxon reported that state documents show that Caltrans paid “millions of dollars over the original bid price” and accepted responsibility for the delays caused by rework. Put another way, in public Caltrans was blaming the problems on contractors, but privately accepting liability. Sweet deal for the contractors, huh? Those millions of dollars included payment for repair and rework, settlements for delays in approving work, and in at least one case, training for contractor’s employees. The workers didn’t show up for the training, but does it really matter? It only cost Caltrans $500,000 of toll revenue, after all. Heck, all of those cost overruns and special payments will come out of toll money. At least the costs of building the bridge, covering up the defects, and rebuilding it to fix the defects are being covered by the people using the bridge instead of taxpayers across the state. Way to show fiscal responsibility, Caltrans.

Next, on July 11, we learned of more problems and their accompanying price tag. Tiny particles of steel are embedded in the bridge’s white paint. Those particles are rusting; that causes structural damage, but more importantly, it makes the signature $6 billion bridge look grimy. Can’t have that. The steel particles are present as the result of grinding parts during assembly. It’s common practice to put down plastic sheets to protect surfaces around grinding work, but Caltrans elected not to do so, citing possible risk to motorists on the old bridge if one of the sheets got loose. That’s another $500,000 dollars of toll money being spent on remedial work that could have been avoided with proper oversight and planning.

Let us move on to July 24, when the bridge’s chief designer told the bridge oversight committee that it’s safe to leave the 2,000 bolts and rods in place. He’s apparently basing his recommendation on the the tests Caltrans has been conducting since last year. Those tests are still going on, but apparently Mr. Nader is confident that the tests won’t uncover any problems. Isn’t assuming the result of testing how we got into this mess in the first place? Over and over we’ve heard that tests weren’t done or the result of testing can’t be found. How about just this once we finish the planned testing before we start making recommendations?

That brings to the latest news. According to an unsigned editorial in today’s paper, state Senator Mark DeSaulnier is calling for a federal criminal investigation into the bridge’s construction to determine “where the money went”. I gave kudos to Senator DeSaulnier last September for calling for a discussion of what went wrong. On the other hand, back in May when the concept of grease caps came up, he jumped on the “no more testing, just grease everything” bandwagon. I said at the time, “Hey Senator…focus on finding out who dropped the ball in the first place.” Looks like he listened to me.

So stick around the ballpark. The Bay Bridge Bolt Botch Blame Game is heading into extra innings. It ain’t over until Yogi Berra sings.

2 thoughts on “BBBB: Extra Innings

  1. It would be refreshing and heartening to see an actual person charged with malfeasance, instead of the usual “mistakes were made” response to a money-sucking boondoggle. Possibly, the person fingered will even have some actual responsibility for the situation. We live in hope.

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    • Refreshing, indeed. The odds are against it, but yes, hope. It could happen.

      I suspect we’re going to be hearing a lot of “We had to hurry to get a safe bridge up before a major earthquake, so I made the best decision I could.”

      I also suspect we will not be hearing the correct response: “If you thought that was a valid choice, it’s clear you should not have been in a decision-making position.”

      (For the less clue-endowed who might stumble on this blog: sacrificing proper design and construction in the name of building a safer bridge is like declaring war in the name of peace.)

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