Act One, Two Years On

We’re rapidly approaching the second anniversary of the Bay Bridge Bolt Botch: the first stories appeared in the Chron on March 28, 2013, and my first blog post about it was the next day. And for two years, it’s been the story that never ends.

The most incredible thing about the Bay Bridge Bolt Botch is that we’re still learning new things about the mess. Think about that for a moment.

The usual pattern for a long-running story is for it to go through multiple acts. In Act One, the problem is revealed. Act Two features accusations, counter-accusations, and disclaimers of responsibility. Then, in Act Three, the focus shifts from the problem itself to the assignment of blame, both in the courts and in the eyes of the public. Act Four is the punishment phase: a criminal is sent to prison, a corporation is fined, or a high-powered executive is acquitted. Finally, Act Five brings us a series of recapitulations and “where are they now” pieces in the news. Typically, Act Three is the longest, with the court case dragging on for years.

Not so with the BBBB. Two years in, and we’re still in Act One! Sure, there’s been finger pointing, but the focus is still on discovering everything that’s wrong with the Bay Bridge’s eastern span. Two years–and counting!

All of which is a long-winded lead-up to the latest revelations. As Jaxon tells us, we’ve got a new problem. Or, more accurately, a new twist on a problem we already knew about.

Remember the rods that attach the bridge tower to the pilings? We learned last year that they had, contrary to Caltrans’ standards, been galvanized, rendering them susceptible to cracks in wet conditions. We also learned that they had been improperly sealed in place, with the result that they’ve been sitting in rainwater for years.

Caltrans downplayed the risk because the rods had not been under tension, unlike the original seismic stabilization bolts that gave the Bolt Botch its name. Then, earlier this month, Jaxon reported that in 2011 the tower had been angled slightly toward the East Bay. In the course of straightening it, the rods had been under high tension for a year.

So it should come as no surprise that Jaxon’s latest report is that the rods are showing signs of cracking along their entire lengths, not just in the portions that have been well-marinated.

Due to the design of the bridge, the original broken bolts couldn’t be replaced, so Caltrans came up with the infamous “saddle” to attach the roadbed to the seismic stabilization system. I’m sure you can guess what’s coming next: due to the design of the bridge, the cracked rods can’t be replaced either. Nobody has, as far as I can tell, suggested that an alternate attachment system to ensure the bridge remains connected to its foundation is necessary, or even possible.

In all fairness, the bridge should be perfectly fine under normal conditions. Nothing that’s been reported so far suggests otherwise.

That said, nobody is talking about what Caltrans’ models show will happen to the bridge–the $6.4 billion bridge–in the event of a major earthquake. Let’s remember that the chance of a Loma Prieta-sized quake occurring in the Bay Area in the next thirty years is pegged at 31%.

Hey, guys? This Bay Bridge Bolt Botch play has an interesting premise, but it’s running a bit long. How’s about you wrap up Act One? Stop finding new problems, and let’s move on to the accusations, OK?

I’m Not Making This Up, Either

According to Adweek, CNN claims ISIS is using Nutella and kittens to recruit women.

How sexist is that? Why are ISIS and CNN assuming that only women will be attracted to a violent, repressive regime by kittens? I know plenty of men who would be quite susceptible to kitten-oriented recruitment techniques.

Then there’s the whole Nutella question. Does anyone like chocolate hazelnut spread enough to leave their comfortable life in search of a jar? It’s not like you can’t find it on the local convenience store shelves if you have an irrational craving.

As a writer, I shouldn’t admit it, but I really couldn’t make up anything this ridiculous. And even if I did, I wouldn’t be able to sell it.

Moving on.

Elevators have been around for more than two thousand years. The modern safety elevator was introduced in 1852. I had assumed that by now the elevator was well-understood technology. Apparently not at Caltrans.

Yup, more problems on the Bay Bridge.

There’s a service elevator on the bridge. It was installed for a very sensible reason: workers need a way to get to the top of the tower to do inspections and maintenance. Once the original elevator design was introduced, bridge officials requested changes to support an additional use: tourism. No, they weren’t thinking of making the top of the Bay Bridge tower into a popular destination on a par with Coit Tower. They wanted to use it as a tool to sell bonds to pay for the bridge.

I’m unsure how they thought that would work. Given my own feelings about heights, I suspect the most successful technique would be to take prospects to the top of the tower and then refuse to let them leave until they signed a purchase request. But that would probably violate a few dozen laws.

Anyway, the design was changed to include large windows to improve the view. In the focus on scope creep in the elevator cab, though, apparently nobody reviewed the design of the system as a whole.

Elevators move in straight lines. Usually, but not always vertical lines. They can cope with diagonals if the shaft is properly built: some of the cab’s weight rests on guide rails, instead of placing all of the weight on the cables. What they can’t handle well are changes of direction.

Remember why the bridge design was chosen? The selection committee wanted something unique. We all know how that turned out. Now we know that, not only is the bridge unique, so is its elevator. The lower half of the ascent is angled inward (toward the tower) and halfway up it changes to an angle out away from the tower. According to the manufacturer, no other elevator has a similar multi-angled path. Lovely.

In practice, the elevator lasted just over a month–from December 5 to January 8–before its drive shaft failed. Actually, the elevator was only in operation for a couple of weeks, thanks to a door failure that idled it from December 7 to 23.

At least bridge commuters won’t have to pay for the repairs. The elevator is still under warranty.

You know, I tried to turn the tale of the Bay Bridge Bolt Botch into a short story. I couldn’t rationalize all of the problems believably enough to make a coherent narrative.

Moving on.

On Tuesday, “School closings” was the third most popular search on Google. Not surprising, given the sub-arctic conditions covering most of the US.

Wednesday, Vanilla Ice was arrested on charges of burglary and grand theft.

Today, Niagara Falls is frozen.

Clearly this is a very bad week for ice.

And if I wrote something like this into a book, reviewers would slam me for “lack of realism” and use of “convenient coincidence”.

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.

An Open Letter to Jaxon Van Derbeken

Dear Jaxon,

You blew it.

I’ve been reading your coverage of the ongoing fiasco that is the eastern span of the Bay Bridge since the days when we all thought the Bay Bridge Bolt Botch was the only fault.

You’ve been doing a great job, explaining technical issues in clear, non-technical language; showing how newly-discovered issues relate to previously-known problems; and calling out problems at all levels of the project: design missteps, testing failures, and breakdowns in oversight.

When I saw the front page headline on last Sunday’s Chron, “Special Report – The Troubled Bay Bridge: How landmark became debacle, I was thrilled. My immediate thought was “Awesome! Jaxon is going to name names and kick butt.”

Imagine my disappointment when I read the article. Anyone reading it would think that every single problem with the bridge is the fault of the selection committee who chose the self-anchored suspension design.

Granted, the committee bears some responsibility for the problems, but it’s disingenuous to suggest that everything would have been perfectly fine if they had chosen the conventional, well-understood cable-stayed design.

Not one word about the engineers who incorporated multiple unrepairable elements into the specifications. No mention of the violations of Caltrans’ own guidelines that led to the use of galvanized bolts. Complete silence regarding the tests and inspections that were either never performed or were not properly documented. Only a passing mention of the issues caused by poor oversight of subcontractors and low bidding suppliers. All issues you’ve covered in previous articles. All issues stemming from Caltrans’ dysfunctional culture, hence likely to have affected the construction of the Bay Bridge no matter what design had been chosen.

You imply that the make-up of the committee was at fault because the majority had little or no experience with bridge design and construction. Yet this is typical, not just in engineering, but in every field of endeavor: decisions are made by managers, executives, or elected representatives who have no experience in the field. That’s why they take the advice of the experts. In this case, as your article makes clear, many of the experts on the committee believed the problems could be overcome, and the self-anchored bridge could be built for only slightly more than ten percent more than the cable-stayed design. That makes the decision much more rational than you suggest.

If Caltrans officials truly were, as you report, “absolutely horrified,” then the error can–must–be assigned to them. If they honestly believed that Caltrans could not build the self-anchored span within the budgeted time and cost, they should have made that clear to the committee long before the final vote was taken.

As it stands, this piece is almost as disappointing as the Bay Bridge itself; far below your usual standard. Please tell me there was an error in laying out the article, that the magic words “Part One of an ongoing series” were somehow omitted. Come on, Jaxon, name the names and kick the butts of the people who were really responsible for sticking us with an overpriced bridge of dubious stability.

Good News / Bad News

Apparently it’s a Good News/Bad News sort of day.

First up, the Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee has released a draft of their report on the Bay Bridge’s 2,200 bolts.

  • Good News: The report concludes that the bolts can “safely remain in service”.
  • Bad News: Caltrans’ credibility is so badly damaged that Jaxon’s article in today’s Chron gives almost as much space to a dissenting opinion. That opinion, provided by Yun Chung, a retired Bechtel engineer, takes issue with the design and extent of the tests Caltrans conducted.
  • Good News: At least Caltrans has documented the tests. That’s a major step forward from their previous practices on the Bay Bridge eastern span.
  • Bad News: The release of the draft report comes just a few days after the minimal “management shakeup” that’s been widely panned. Regardless of the Committee’s intent in releasing the report, it comes across as an attempt to distract the public’s attention from Caltrans’ failings throughout the bridge’s construction.

Next, we need to turn our attention the other end of the Bay Bridge.

  • Good News: The popular “Bay Lights” display on the western span will not end in March. Thanks to a $2 million dollar matching donation, the $4 million cost of making the installation permanent has been raised.
  • Bad News: That $4 million doesn’t include anything to cover the maintenance and power costs of the lights, estimated at $250,000. That money will be coming from bridge tolls. The same tolls that are pledged to cover maintenance of the entire bridge, including, one presumes, the “continued inspection and maintenance” of those 2,200 bolts. How long will it take for Caltrans to propose another increase in tolls to maintain “Bay Lights”?

There’s more news on the international scene.

  • Good News: President Obama is taking steps to normalize relations with Cuba. I’m too young to remember the Cuban Missle Crisis and the other Cold War era events that led to the U.S. policy of pretending Cuba didn’t exist. Maybe if I did remember those years, I’d understand how a unilateral embargo–ignored by the rest of the world–coupled with an ongoing series of incompetent attempts to foment a public uprising against Castro could possibly weaken Cuba’s ties to the Soviet Union and improve conditions for its citizens.
  • Bad News: There’s no way Obama is going to get a Republican-controlled Congress to support the plan. It’ll be spun as Obama being soft on Communism and illegal immigration. Given the Right’s ongoing attempts to demonize Obama, it’s only a matter of time before somebody starts explaining in all seriousness how normalization of relations with Cuba is part of a plot to turn Americans over to alien mind-controlling lizards.

Still on the international front,

  • Bad News: Sony and theater chains have decided to shelve “The Interview”. Nobody has presented any evidence that North Korea is behind the Sony hacks, nor is there any credible evidence that the hackers could carry out their threats to bomb theaters. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Sony and the theater owners have acceded to a terrorist demand despite the total lack of proof that the terrorists could actually carry out their threat. Now that the precedent has been set, look for a string of unsubstantiated bomb threats leading to the cancellation of any film project that could possibly be considered controversial.
  • Good News: By shelving “The Interview,” Sony has spared us the prospect of TSA-style security screenings at movie theaters. At least for now we’ll be spared the need to take off our shoes and wade through spilled soda and popcorn on our way through the X-ray machines.

Bay Bridge Still…

The Bay Bridge frolics continue…

Matier and Ross reported a couple of days ago that, even though the eastern span of the bridge has been open since September of 2013, there are still 170 Caltrans staff and consultants working on the bridge full time. Or, given Caltrans’ collective aversion to documenting what people working on the bridge are doing, maybe it would be more accurate to say that 170 people are still being paid for jobs related to the bridge.

That sounds worse than it actually is. There is still work going on, after all. Not just repairs–though as we know, there are a few of those going on–but also the demolition of the old bridge. But transportation planners are upfront about the real reason many of those people are still on the job. M&R quote one unnamed source as saying “They got nowhere to go.” Until new projects come along–and funding is on the decline–they stay put, doing, something or other. Presumably.

Caltrans apparently has never heard of temporary positions and layoffs are not even being considered..

Still, one Caltrans employee will be transitioning off the Bay Bridge project. Our buddy Jaxon Van Derbeken reports that Tony Anziano, the former top official will be reassigned to other projects. Yes, this is the same Tony Anziano that the California Highway Patrol determined had mishandled engineers’ complaints about bad welds. That’s apparently the extent of the “management shakeup” that was supposed to follow the CHP’s investigation.

Mark DeSaulnier, told Jaxon he was disappointed. “The biggest problem with that bridge is that nobody has ever been held accountable.” Hey, Mark, you were the head of the Metropolitan Transportation Committee until last month. Did you consider using your position to change that culture of unaccountability? Jaxon, did you ask the former state senator what he intends to do to improve Caltrans’ culture once he takes his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives?

The bridge also has some problems unrelated to construction. The Chron’s Vivian Ho has pointed out that several of the palm trees planted next to the eastern approach are showing signs of disease, and one has died. According to MTC architectural coordinator Clive Endress, a five to ten percent mortality rate is an “industry standard”. Certainly one of thirty-seven is well below that range; if the pink rot can be controlled without losing any more trees, Caltrans will be off the hook there.

Clive, who is the person who selected the palms for their “dramatic visual quality”, also pointed out that other species of trees have their own unique diseases, implying that Caltrans would be dealing with similar issues even if he had chosen a native species.

Granted, even if all of the trees died, it wouldn’t be a disaster on the scale of the Bolt Botch and assorted welding screwups, but it would have been nice if some aspect of the Bay Bridge project could have been free of problems and controversy.

If You Insist

Somebody asked me why I didn’t do a “thank you” post this year.

“I didn’t do one last year, either,” I replied.

“Then it’s really overdue. And it beats writing about sauerkraut.”

I couldn’t argue with logic like that, so here’s the 2013 thank you post. Look for the 2014 post somewhere around 2018.

Let’s start with the obvious, just to get it out of the way. I’m thankful for people who suggest blog topics. I’m especially thankful for the ones who don’t suggest that I let them write a “guest post” that would be an advertisement for whatever piece of cheap junk they’re selling at an inflated price. (Oh, look: there are three of those suggestions in the comment spam today!)

I’m always thankful for Maggie. She deserves a medal for putting up with me and this career that’s chosen me. With a little luck, the career will produce enough money for me to buy her that medal. I suppose that means I need to be thankful for her patience.

I’m thankful for all of you who come by and read what I’ve written. Even those of you whose interest begins and ends with leftover sauerkraut (still the single most popular post on the blog, with more than eleven times as many page views as the next most popular*).

* For the curious, Number Two is Crimes Against Humanity, this past July’s semi-review of Weird Al’s latest album. It does make me wonder why I keep writing about baseball and cats, when you all obviously consider my strengths to lie elsewhere. But I digress.

How about baseball management that listens to my complaints? I’m thankful to them. A week after I complained that the Mariners hadn’t done anything to improve the team, they picked up arguably the best right-handed free agent bat available. (Allow me to extend apologies to Jackie and the rest of the Orioles’ fans who were hoping their team would re-sign Nelson Cruz. Jackie, since blogging clearly works, may I suggest an impassioned plea for your guys to use some of the money they offered Cruz to lock down Markakis?)

And, speaking of baseball, I’m incredibly grateful for those of you who read the baseball posts and don’t laugh hysterically when my predictions go massively wrong. Cases in point: In recent weeks, I’ve predicted that the Ms wouldn’t sign Nelson Cruz, that the Giants would re-sign the Panda, and that the As were one of the only three teams that wouldn’t be looking for a new third baseman this winter.

And finally, I’m thankful* for Caltrans and the Bay Bridge for providing me with a source of blog posts that will never run out. Even over the Thanksgiving holiday, they were busy giving me more material.

* I’m so thankful I almost sent them a check, but then I realized that the interest they earn on the funds sitting in my FasTrak account dwarfs anything I could squeeze out of my bank account (see the earlier comment about medals and delayed gratification).

Their latest offering? Why, they’re discussing the possibility of saving millions of dollars by not tearing down all of the old bridge! That’s right: the one that they determined was seismically unsound. The one that had to be removed in order to eliminate the risk it would pose to the new bridge in a major quake. The one they promised to remove in their agreements with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard, and the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission.

Of course, those promises were made before the bridge ran billions over budget. A chance to save a few million dollars is almost irresistible, especially if it can be done in the name of “Art” and “the betterment of the bay”. The BCDC is especially dubious about the proposal, but claims to be willing to discuss terms–including “building bridges out to walkways”. Uh, guys, do you really want to trust these folks to build more bridges?

I expect the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s negotiations with the BCDC to be a source of high comedy for months to come. Stay tuned!

Doom and Gloom

The past couple of days have been filled with chest-beating and doom-calling over the election results. And, let’s face it, most of it is justified. Turning the environment committee over to climate change denial crackpot James Inhofe, is just the most egregious example of the retreat from rationality and government as responsive to the needs of the public.

I look at the returns, and I’m almost convinced that America is doomed. Almost. When I’m at most most pessimistic, I turn to the one thing that gives me hope for the country.

No, not cute cat videos. I’m talking about the result of the city council and mayoral elections right here in Richmond, CA. This was not a Republican/Democrat battle. This was clearly and explicitly an attempt by one of the world’s largest companies to take over the city.

Chevron backed a slate of candidates to the tune of $3,000,000–that’s $72 per registered voter–in TV, billboard, and Internet ads. Their slate included council member Corky Boozé, who has refused to perform legally-mandated cleanups at his salvage yard and disparaged fellow council member Jovanka Beckles in public council meetings for her sexual orientation. Clearly Chevron considers willingness to vote their line more important than obedience to existing laws regarding environmental management and discrimination. Lovely.

What is lovely is that Chevron’s opposition–including Ms. Beckles–spent about 1/20th as much money and won in a landslide. Mayoral candidate Tom Butt pulled in 51.4 percent of the vote, trouncing Chevron’s choice, Nat Bates, who managed only 35.5 percent. All three non-Chevron candidates for city council won handily as well.

Richmond has a bad reputation. When we moved to the Bay Area, we were warned not to settle in Richmond, because of its high levels of crime, pollution, and other civic ills. But we rented an apartment in Richmond, and we’ve been here ever since. And–especially in the last few years as the mayor and city council have worked to diminish Chevron’s control–Richmond has been recovering from those civic ills.

The city’s motto is “City of Pride and Purpose”. I’ve never been more proud of this city than I am today.

Of course, all is not sugar plums and candy canes around here–although the Christmas decorations are starting to go up in the stores. There’s still that darn bridge to worry about.

Monday, our guy at the Chron, Jaxon Van Derbeken, broke the news that the final accounting of the construction of the Bay Bridge’s eastern span will come in at least $35 million over budget. Fortunately, Caltrans is promising–for now–that they won’t have to raise tolls. Instead, they’re taking money away from other projects to cover the Bay Bridge shortfall. Some of the money is coming from projects that finished under budget, including seismic refitting work on the Antioch and Dumbarton bridges, but more will be needed.

State Senator Mark DeSaulnier, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee called the Bay Bridge’s eastern span “the most disastrous public works project in the history of the state of California,” and it’s becoming increasingly hard to disagree.

Remember those bolts that are supposed to connect the bridge to its base? The ones that were soaking in water because they weren’t properly grouted? Last month, I said “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. Wednesday, Jaxon reported that more than a quarter of the bolts are insufficiently sealed, and testing is still continuing.

At least five bolts have no grout, and Caltrans engineer Bill Casey says the total could be “as many as fifty”. The remainder have less grout than they should, typically a thin layer at the top. The theory Caltrans is pursuing for how this happened: “crews…forgot to take [temporary foam] out and pump in the grout.”

They forgot. Casey is apologetic. “Unfortunately, a mistake was made,” he told the bridge oversight committee.

Once again, let me ask the same question I’ve been asking since the orginal bolt problem surfaced: Who is responsible for QA? And a new question: Why hasn’t that person been fired for gross incompetence?

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.

Did You Feel That?

It hasn’t gotten much play in the media, but there was an earthquake here in the San Francisco Bay Area early Sunday morning.

Ah, who am I trying to kid? The papers, TV, and Internet have been full of it. And full of stories about the earthquake, too. That being the case, I’ll skip the detailed retrospective; if you did somehow miss the news, there are plenty of places for you to catch up.

I will note that there have been almost a dozen aftershocks of magnitude 2.5 or higher, including a 3.9 at 5:33 this morning. I slept through it, but it woke Kokoro up, and she in turn woke me up when she jumped off the bed. That meant I was awake at 5:35 to feel a 2.7 quake (it shook the bed slightly more than ‘Nuki did when he jumped on a few minutes later). There was also a 3.0 aftershock at 6:45, just enough to make my monitor sway a little.

Just to be clear, we’re about 15 miles from the center of the original Sunday quake, and most of the aftershocks have been even further away. Despite the way it looks on the USGS map, the aftershocks are not moving north. Presumably whatever Mother Nature is annoyed about is in the Napa/American Canyon area, and she’ll continue to poke at it until she’s satisfied.

But you’re not here for my uneducated speculation about vengeful Earth deities. I know you’re actually here to find out whether the Bay Bridge is still standing.

In short, yes. None of the major bridges in the Bay Area suffered any damage. But don’t get too excited. That doesn’t mean we can relax and accept Caltrans’ assurances that the bridge is perfectly safe.

While people and structures near the epicenter of the quake–i.e. the residents and city of Napa–felt a level IX shake intensity (the USGS characterizes that as “Violent” perceived shaking with “Heavy” damage potential), near our house, it was down to the lower reaches of level V (“Moderate” shaking and “Very light” damage). Continue south to the bridge and you’re well into level IV (“Light” shaking with “none” potential damage).

The Bay Bridge, in other words, wasn’t particularly tested by this quake.

While the damage in Napa and surrounding communities was significant, it could have been much worse. From what I’ve read, the 6.0 quake was just below the level where wide-spread, major damage with massive casualties and major infrastructure damage is expected. That threshold is somewhere around 6.2. The intensity scale is logarithmic, so a 0.2 difference is much larger than it sounds, but the point is that this quake wasn’t strong enough to be expected to cause bridges to collapse.

Until we have a similarly-sized quake on the Hayward or San Andreas fault, the Bay Bridge cannot be said to have been seriously tested, and we’ll have to continue to rely on the engineers’ estimates. Seismologists say we could have such a quake any time. As of 2008, the USGS estimated the chances of a large earthquake by 2038 at 31% for the Hayward fault and 21% for the San Andreas. Note that by “large,” they mean 6.7. That implies that a 6.0 quake similar to Sunday’s is significantly more likely.

For a great number of reasons, I’d prefer to put off a live test of the Bay Bridge’s seismic stability as long as possible.