Good News for Caltrans

Let’s continuing Thursday’s focus on more positive news.

Here’s something I was quite sure I’d never be able to say: Caltrans has gotten something right with the Bay Bridge! I know it’s hard to believe, but apparently it’s true.

You may recall that in October, our good friend Jaxon alerted us to a new risk to the bridge: corrosion of the main cable. (If you need to refresh your memory, my post is here. The TL;DR is water was leaking in through the bridge’s guardrails, thanks, at least in part, to a design change.)

Now Jaxon is back with more. According to his latest article, Caltrans spent $1.4 million on sealant, trying to plug the leaks. That fix didn’t do the job, and on further investigation, they discovered that the design change initially blamed for allowing water to reach the cable actually had nothing to do with the problem.

It turned out that water was simply flowing through the gap between the guardrail and the roadbed. The fix: apply industrial-strength caulk to the gap–the same thing you might use to repair a leaky window. The cost: a mere $100,000.

All is not sweetness and light, of course. This is Caltrans, after all. The caulk will need to be replaced every seven years or so, and as we learned in December, ongoing maintenance isn’t one of Caltrans’ strong suits. But it does buy Caltrans time to research more permanent approaches to resolving the problem.

Nor, IMNSHO, does this cheap fix entirely make up for the earlier non-fix of the wrong problem. In fairness, root cause analysis can be tricky, and nobody gets it right all the time. But I can’t help but wonder how much corrosion monitoring on Caltrans’ other bridges that $1.4 million would have bought.

It’s a shame Caltrans can’t use the same caulk to fix the leaks in the bridge’s foundation. Unfortunately, that’s a totally different problem.

All negativism aside, though, I’m very glad to see a change from the constant stream of bad news about the bridge.

Two years, four months, and twenty-three days down; one hundred forty-seven years, seven months, and eight days to go to reach the designed lifetime.

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