After a decade-long delay and massive overspending, Sen. Mark DeSaulnier has promised a probe into Caltrans' Bay Bridge project.
By Lee Romney, November 2, 2013
After nearly 12 years of construction and an estimated price tag of $6.4
billion, the new eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge
finally opened to traffic in September.
The new eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge is open
to traffic, and motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians have expressed
approval of the single-tower suspension span's elegant beauty.
But then there are these
facts: The project was completed a decade later than promised and came
in $5 billion over budget. It was also plagued by construction
difficulties, including a batch of massive bolts that snapped, delaying
the opening and requiring a costly retrofit.
Last week, state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) announced that he
would lead a "comprehensive investigation" into the decision-making by California Department of Transportation officials throughout the nearly 12-year construction period.
He will also chair a series
of Senate Transportation and Housing Committee hearings to explore
problems plaguing all state "megaprojects" and come up with suggested
improvements for Caltrans.
"The need for a new eastern span has been evident since the Loma
Prieta earthquake in 1989, and our committee will investigate the key
decisions that shaped this project over the past 24 years," DeSaulnier
said in a statement.
He added that drafting legislation "that creates greater
accountability at Caltrans, and improves the management of future
projects, will be a top priority of mine during the 2014 legislative
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg concurred.
"The problems encountered with this project raise a lot of questions,
and California taxpayers and commuters deserve answers," he said. "I'm
confident Caltrans will cooperate fully with this inquiry."
The probes come as part of a larger push to reform the transportation agency. Gov. Jerry Brown
this year signed a bill authored by DeSaulnier that sets standards for
assembling peer review panels used in public works projects.
The price tag on the eastern span of the bridge, which opened to traffic after Labor Day weekend, has reached $6.4 billion, and Caltrans' decision-making has come under increasing scrutiny throughout the year.
Most notably, criticism emerged over the use of galvanized steel
bolts to connect the bridge deck to so-called shear keys, which are
designed to control movement during an earthquake. U.S. industry
standards and Caltrans' own guidelines warn against galvanizing the
grade of steel used because of its hardness and tendency to break under
The bolts failed earlier this year because of hydrogen embrittlement,
in which hydrogen atoms weaken steel's crystalline structure. That may
have occurred during galvanization or when the bolts sat for years
untightened in casings that filled with water.