Federal, State Officials Investigate Caltrans’ Handling of San Francisco Bay Bridge

California Transportation Department officials are facing inquiries from both state and federal officials about the new Bay Bridge span, The Associated Press reports.

Caltrans managers will answer questions from the state Legislature at a hearing Tuesday in Sacramento. And the Federal Highway Administration announced on Monday it will investigate the way the state has handled broken rods in the span.

Here’s the report on the Legislative hearing:

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Officials overseeing construction of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge are scheduled to be questioned at a hearing in Sacramento to address construction problems and the overall structural integrity of the $6.3-billion project.

A view of the underside of the eastern side of the new Bay Bridge on March 27. Bolts can be seen in a rectangular formation in the center of the photo. Thirty-two steel rods on the new eastern span have snapped. (Deborah Svoboda/KQED)
A view of the underside of the eastern side of the new Bay Bridge on March 27. Bolts can be seen in a rectangular formation in the center of the photo. Thirty-two steel rods on the new eastern span have snapped. (Deborah Svoboda/KQED)

Citing myriad problems that have dogged the span’s construction, lawmakers on Tuesday will ask California Department of Transportation and other officials whether the agency is capable of managing such large, complex projects.Its Labor Day opening is in jeopardy after the failure of 32 seismic safety rods that attach the bridge deck to earthquake shock absorbers called “shear keys.”

The bridge will replace the existing span, which was damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

After years of delay and cost overruns, the bridge has become the largest public works project in state history, the committee said.

And here’s the report on the Highway Administration’s inquiry:

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The Federal Highway Administration on Monday said it is investigating the state’s response to broken steel seismic safety rods on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

FHWA spokesman Doug Hecox said the agency has launched its review after it received a request by state bridge officials, but it did not have an idea of how long the probe would take.

The agency will examine the California Department of Transportation’s conclusion about the cause of the rod failure and the state’s recommended fix.

“Public confidence is extremely important, and the public will be confident when we can say backed by independent review that the bridge is 100-percent safe,” Andrew Gordon, the Bay Bridge project’s spokesman, said.

The repair work has put the span’s scheduled Labor Day opening in doubt, and Caltrans asked the FHWA to conduct a review to help determine whether the bridge will still open on time.

Bridge officials on Wednesday requested that the FHWA review its findings that the rods broke because hydrogen had penetrated the steel, which caused it to become too brittle.

The failed rods were made in 2008 and were designed to connect the bridge deck to so-called “shear keys,” which help control movement during an earthquake.

Officials still do not know how the hydrogen got there, but a metallurgists’ report determined the steel used in manufacturing the rods was “less than ideal.”

The report said the hydrogen corrosion in the rods could have been discovered earlier if Caltrans had required tougher tests. The agency said it is developing new requirements that would require tougher testing in the future.

To fix the problem, Caltrans and the oversight committee are recommending that two steel saddles be installed to hold the shear key’s base plate in place. The saddles would be held down by hundreds of steel cables.

Bridge officials hope the FHWA’s review into their diagnosis of the problem and their chosen repair option will help provide clarity.

Hecox said the agency did not yet know whether investigators would travel to the site or conduct the probe remotely.

“We believe that resolution of these questions will determine the schedule for opening the new span,” the Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee, which oversees the bridge project, wrote in its request.

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