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“The mother of all construction claims”

The beleaguered new east span of the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge is becoming, in the words of one member of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, “the mother of all construction claims.” Dave Cortese, commission vice chairman and a Santa Clara County supervisor explains:

“How do we as (commissioners) ensure that people feel they’re getting what they bargained for and not paying for the mistakes of others?”

The new east span, already years behind schedule, was supposed to open this Labor Day weekend. That date has been pushed back by problems recently discovered with broken bolts. An expert retained by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) believes that shimming the bridge’s massive seismic bearings with steel plates is a simple fix that could be accomplished in less than a month.

State Senator Anthony Cannella (R) scoffed at this idea. “I’m a little concerned about a $6 billion bridge being shimmed.” Others expressed similar concerns. State Senator Mark DeSaulnier (D) stated:

“It’s a symptom of the management of this project and it’s not a good symptom. This is part of the reason why the bridge is billions over budget and years late. The governing structure of the bridge has been a problem from the beginning.”

The bolts in question broke during final tensioning and are an integral part of the seismic performance of the new bridge. Experts have said that Caltrans specified bolts that were inappropriate for a marine environment. UC Berkeley metallurgist Thomas Devine has said that three major problems with the bridge – the bolts, skyway tendons and faulty welds at the base of the tower – “collectively indicate the lack of metallurgical input into the selection and deployment of steel at key locations in the bridge.”

The genesis of this project was the earthquake that occurred during the 1989 World Series. It is incredible to think how long it has taken to get to this point. The lawsuits could take even longer to resolve. One of the highest-profile projects in California since the Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937 has become a public-relations nightmare for all involved.