Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before…

Remember back in March 2013 when I started writing about the new Bay Bridge? The news media were full of stories about bolts in the seismic stability system breaking. At the time, I said “the bolts range from 9 to 24 feet long, yet there is only 5 feet of clearance beneath the roadway. That means the bolts can’t be replaced. Again, I’m not an engineer – or an architect for that matter – but this seems like a bad design.”

Here we are eighteen months later, and we’ve just learned that a whole new set of bolts are at risk. These bolts aren’t as important as the seismic stability bolts: all these do is attach the bridge to its base. If they break, the worst that will happen is that the whole bridge will fall into the bay. Nothing critical, right?

And guess what? According to our buddy Jaxon Van Derbeken “there isn’t enough room in the tower chamber to maneuver the long replacement rods into position.” Apparently repair really wasn’t a design consideration in our shiny new bridge.

There are 423 of these bolts, and 95% of them are soaking in water because the grout that’s supposed to keep them sealed isn’t. It’s not clear at this point whether the waterproof seals were broken when the bolts were tightened, or if they were improperly applied in the first place, but either way it’s another example of Caltrans’ casual approach to testing. The bolts were installed in 2010 and some were re-tightened in 2011. Signs of corrosion were seen on the rods in 2011, but Caltrans apparently never investigated the extent of the problem.

So, add another issue to the list of things that need fixing on the Bay Bridge. Assuming that Caltrans can afford to fix it. Jaxon reported way back in August that 90% of the contingency fund for repairs had been used up. At that time, the fund was down to $90 million. And that was before the repairs for removing the rusting metal embedded in the bridge’s paint were factored in. It was also before the cost of moving the federally protected cormorants that nest in the old bridge soared to $30 million.

The new bridge includes spaces specifically-designed for the cormorants to nest in, but they’ve shown no desire to move from the old bridge to the new one. Do you suppose they’re as uneasy about the new bridge’s stability as all of the humans outside of Caltrans are?

Still, it’s not all bad news for the Bay Bridge these days. The committee overseeing the demolition of the old bridge has set aside $2.2 million to salvage 300 tons of steel for public art projects. The Oakland Museum of California, home of the old bridge’s troll, will choose the specific projects to receive the steel.

Artists around the Bay Area have been hoping for access to part of old bridge, so–assuming the cormorants can be relocated, making the steel available–this is good news.

Mind you, it could have been better news. The committee originally planned to allocate $4.4 million, but Steve Heminger, chairman of the bridge’s oversight committee, cut it in half to shore up the contingency fund. Hopefully the new problem bolts won’t require the committee to contribute the remaining money as well.

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