Ain’t It Good To Know…

Jaxon is back, and in top form.

Last Sunday, he had a piece in the Chron with a bit of information we hadn’t heard before. It seems that the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has a lot in common with Caltrans.

Like Caltrans did for the Bay Bridge, WSDOT set aside their normal rules against using galvanized steel for the Hood Canal pontoon bridge. Like Caltrans, WSDOT purchased steel rods from Dyson Corp. And, like Caltrans, WSDOT’s rods failed, cracking only a few days after installation.

The Hood Canal rods were installed and failed in 2009, about six months after the Bay Bridge’s more famous bolts were installed. (The Bay Bridge bolts didn’t fail until 2013 because the final stage of installation, tightening the bolts, had to wait for other work to be completed. In the meantime, the Bay Bridge bolts were marinated in rainwater, weakening them to the point where 32 of them snapped immediately after they were tightened.

If Caltrans had heard about the Hood Canal failure, they might have revisited the decision to use galvanized steel. Of course, that’s an optimistic notion, given the issues Jaxon has been documenting in Caltrans’ lack of internal communication.

Interestingly, WSDOT didn’t do any testing to determine why their rods failed. Lack of testing–where have I heard that before? WSDOT instead relied on an engineering analysis. Unfortunately, nobody told the engineer who did the work that the rods hadn’t failed immediately. Lack of communication and incomplete documentation. That sounds familiar too.

This isn’t WSDOT’s only bridge debacle, by the way. The 520 Floating Bridge project has been dogged by problems including leaking pontoons. KOMO News quotes Washington State Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond as admitting that the pontoon design didn’t follow standards of good practice and that WSDOT didn’t follow their own rules for oversight and administration.

Really sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

There’s one important difference between WSDOT and Caltrans, though. According to KOMO, “Hammond said disciplinary action will be taken against state bridge division staff who signed off on the design without running models that might have foreseen the cracking.” Unlike Caltrans’ policy, which seems to be one of finger pointing and lack of accountability, WSDOT is at least making the effort to deal with their problems.

They’ve got a long way to go, though. Jaxon tells us the primary builder on the Hood Canal bridge was Kiewit Corp and that Kiewit is disclaiming responsibility for the cracked rods, and referring questions to Dyson. The primary builder on the 520 bridge? An outfit called Kiewit Corp. KOMO reported last April that, even with the pontoon design flaws corrected, Kiewit is having problems with the construction. An entire 120 foot section of one pontoon was damaged by freezing weather and had to be redone. Kiewit accepted “full responsibility” for that damage, so their failure to take any responsibility for the cracked rods represents something of a regression.

Dyson, by the way, is accepting no responsibility for either the Hood Canal or Bay Bridge failures. Their position is that they supplied the materials they had been contracted to manufacture, and if a contractor specifies an inappropriate material, that’s not Dyson’s fault. So Caltrans and WSDOT have that in common, too.

It’s a lonely position, having the world pointing their fingers at you and laughing at your mistakes. But at least WSDOT and Caltrans can take solace in the fact that they’re not alone anymore.

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