Well, That’s Just Fine

It’s October, and you know what that means: your two and a half month respite from my bitching about the Bay Bridge is over. Don’t run away–we’ve officially reached the point where one can only shake one’s head in wonder.

Last week, Caltrans finally admitted that a long-term fix is necessary for the steel rods that have been soaking in Bay water since they were installed. The cost? A mere $15-25 million. Excluding the cost of ongoing monitoring and maintenance and a proposed study of the long-term risks of saltwater corrosion. But whats a couple of dozen millions of dollars among friends? Bridge tolls are, apparently, a source of endless funds for such tweaks.

* Mind you, Caltrans still maintains that the rods aren’t actually necessary, that the bridge can ride out a major earthquake without them. Nobody has explained why they were included in the design if they aren’t needed. I can only assume that they’re a “suspenders and belt” item, something to provide redundant security. So without the rods, we’d be hoping the Bay Bridge’s belt will keep its pants from falling down despite the lack of suspenders.

The next day, the Bay Bridge oversight panel voted to accept the bridge construction as complete, which ends primary contractor American Bridge/Fluor’s involvement in the project. At the same time, the panel fined American Bridge/Fluor $11 million for what panel chair Steve Heminger called “elements in the cost and quality [of the bridge] that were substandard.” He’s talking about broken bolts, inadequate grouting, non-functional elevators, flawed paint jobs, improper welds, and all of the other glitches we’ve covered here over the last several years. With AB/F’s role complete, any further work, including repairs and maintenance, will be done by a new contractor. Hopefully the contract will require them to perform (and document) testing to ensure their work is up to standard. Oh, wait, it was Caltrans that either failed to test or failed to document the testing of AB/F’s work. Never mind.

Most of that fine is to partially reimburse Caltrans for the seismic refit–the famous “saddle”–installed in 2013 to replace the functionality of the original broken bolts. (The architectural firm that designed the bridge has also been fined $8 million for their role in the broken bolt fiasco. It’s not stated exactly what the oversight panel thinks their role was; I’m guessing it’s for producing a design that made it impossible to replace the flawed rods.)

Back when the bridge opened in September of 2013, American Bridge/Fluor received a bonus for meeting that arbitrary date. The bonus was nearly $49 million, more than four times last week’s fine. Apparently the oversight commission doesn’t believe that there’s a connection between meeting the launch date and the “substandard” quality of the work.

Moving on.

The argument over what caused the tower rod to break continues. Independent engineers still say that hydrogen embrittlement is the most likely culprit, while Caltrans’ engineers blame bending and overtightening. That particular debate produced the single most boggling statement to come out of the Bay Bridge Bolt Botch. According to Brian Maroney, chief engineer on the bridge, there’s no reason to settle the question. Because only one bolt has broken, it’s not worth spending any money to definitively establish why it broke.

Think about that for a moment. The bridge’s chief engineer doesn’t think it’s important to find out what went wrong. If he doesn’t know why the rod broke, how does he know his $15 million dollar fix will keep the remaining rods intact? Oh, right, he doesn’t care because they’re not essential.

Excuse me while I go bang my head against the wall.

One Small Step Forward

OMG, OMG, OMG! We’re starting to see signs that the Bay Bridge Bolt Botch is finally moving into Act Two!

The transition is just barely getting started, but still… Get this: we’re seeing finger-pointing and disclaimers of responsibility as part of the revelation of the latest problem! Seems like Caltrans and its contractors are getting just as sick of Act One as we are.

The latest problem is actually a new facet of one we already knew about. Remember those improperly-grouted rods that had been soaking in rainwater for years? The ones that were showing some signs of cracks? The ones that can’t be replaced, and are responsible for the stability of the bridge tower? Yeah, those rods.

The water was pumped out, but it came back. And no, our drought hasn’t broken. It’s not rain. Wait, it gets better: tests of the new water show a chloride level much higher than the earlier water. Chloride is a significant cause of corrosion, and the levels found in the water are high enough that independent experts are questioning the long-term viability of the rods.

So where’s the water coming from now?

Caltrans blames the bridge’s primary contractor, American Bridge/Fluor Enterprises, saying both that they put water into the rods’ sleeves after they had been pumped out and that “unexpected and unauthorized” water was tricking in, presumably through those same failed groutings.

For their part–and this is where we’re seeing the finger-pointing–American Bridge/Fluor claims that there are cracks in the concrete of the tower’s foundation. Since the foundation was built by Kiewit, another contractor, American Bridge/Fluor’s argument is that they’re not responsible for the water, or the potential failure of the rods.

The level of chloride in the water strongly suggests seawater as the source. Not that it would let American Bridge/Fluor off the hook for the original grout problem, but in classic finger-pointing mode, that’s beside the point.

As of Jaxon’s article in yesterday’s Chron, Kiewit apparently hadn’t weighed in with their own accusation. Stay tuned. My guess: they’ll point their own finger at the concrete supplier. 50/50 odds whether the word “thug” will figure in the discussion.