Caltrans: Engineers Say Tests Show Most Bay Bridge Rods are Safe

July 25, 2014 9:44 am · 26 comments


Metropolitan Transportation Commission Chairman Steve Heminger said today that test results showing that most steel rods on the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge are safe are “very good news.”

However, Heminger said more testing needs to be completed before it can be concluded that most of the rods, which secure earthquake shock absorbers to the deck of the eastern span, don’t need to be replaced.

In March 2013, about one-third of the initial batch of 96 bolts that secure the shock absorbers to the deck failed when they were tightened.

Caltrans figured out a temporary solution that allowed the new eastern span to open on schedule last Labor Day and completed a permanent fix in December.

Heminger’s remarks about the rods on the new eastern span came after engineers briefed the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee, which oversees Bay Bridge construction, about tests of about 2,600 bolts on the new eastern span.

Brian Maroney, Caltrans’ chief engineer, said there is no “clear evidence” from the tests that other rods could fail like the group that snapped last year, which he described as “inferior.” Engineer Marwan Nader of T.Y. Lin International, which designed the new eastern span, said, “We’ve determined that these rods are safe.”

Heminger said he interprets the test results so far as meaning, “You don’t do anything new, steady as she goes.”

But Heminger said the situation still needs to be monitored closely and it’s still too soon to rule out the possibility that some of the rods will have to be replaced in the future.

The panel, which consists of Heminger and the heads of Caltrans and the California Transportation Commission, also agreed today to pay $3 million to fix several mistakes with the new eastern span, including rust-stained paint, misaligned rods and malfunctioning scaffolds.

The work, which will be performed by the span’s main contractor, the joint venture American Bridge/Fluor, is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

In addition, the oversight committee voted to spend $1.7 million to protect birds that nest at the new eastern span.

Are these people really July 25, 2014 at 9:54 AM

all that trustworthy?

I believe there is considerable political influence and face saving going on here which is detrimental to the tax payers and voters.

The bridge may well last 150 years, but at what cost to the tax payers? Probably a lot.

Really? July 25, 2014 at 10:04 AM

I feel the results of this test may have been determined before any testing was done! I would be more inclined to believe independent testing results. There was a lot of political pressure to open this bridge which is a first of its design to be built. Does anyone remember an engineer that claimed that the original bridge could be earthquake retrofitted at a fraction of the cost of the new bridge. He also pointed out that with the old bridge we knew where the weak points were and could address them. But nobody could possible know how the new bridge was going to handle an actual earthquake being one had never been built.

ConcordMike July 25, 2014 at 10:28 AM

Some very good points you’ve made here.

BigBroWatching July 25, 2014 at 10:35 AM

I see calamity sometime in the future. All this for a chinese steel bridge.

2BITS July 25, 2014 at 10:48 AM

Most? Is that supposed to make us feel safe?

Anon July 25, 2014 at 10:59 AM

Most is not good enough.

Anon July 25, 2014 at 11:08 AM

They got too cute with the design of the bridge, experimenting at our expense.

just a concordian July 25, 2014 at 11:23 AM

Someone is making money off of this. And we’re ALL paying for it via taxes and tolls.

Sunnymoon July 25, 2014 at 11:27 AM

Most. Ha.

anon July 25, 2014 at 11:30 AM

“Most”, really, how comforting.

RANDOM TASK July 25, 2014 at 11:30 AM

wow trust the MTC and or Cal-TRans …….cool I have a bridge to sell you ……enjoy …..

RANDOM TASK July 25, 2014 at 11:35 AM

really after 50 years you are now questioning the monarchy running demifornia ……the dems have run California into the ground and have no reason to care their pockets are full and political careers locked in your votes mean nothing it is business as usual ……abusing tax dollars and bridge tolls is their right and they use it ….see new building for MTC in the most expensive city and a multi million dollar renovation of said building all so they could rip us off on a crappy bridge ……..keep voting em in soon you will have the satisfaction of being a part of the demise of this once great state ……..not for #8 just saying

Dorothy July 25, 2014 at 12:03 PM

Still will not drive over it. Still plan to take the time to go the longer way around.

Noj July 25, 2014 at 12:28 PM


You nailed it.

Here’s the Sacramento Bee article from June 8, 2014 about the Chinese company:

FTA: “Caltrans asked an outside expert to assess whether ZPMC could do the job, and Jim Merrill, a senior materials contractor for the bridge project, gave the company a ‘contingent pass.’
He also labeled it ‘high risk.’
Among other problems, ZPMC didn’t have enough qualified welders or inspectors, the audit noted, and routinely welded in the rain, a basic error that often causes defects.
Undeterred, Caltrans signed off.”

And from the SF Chronicle June 10th, 2014:

FTA: “The agency added bonuses of $40 million to meet its deadlines.”

Don’t forget Smilin’ Mark DeSaulnier:

SpiritDog July 25, 2014 at 1:03 PM

I won’t be happy until all are safe! Money, money, money.

Jose July 25, 2014 at 1:21 PM

When it falls who do we hang.

Cowellian July 25, 2014 at 3:21 PM

How many unsafe rods does it take to ruin your entire day?

"Most bolts are safe......." July 25, 2014 at 6:18 PM

In a progressive structural failure the weakest element fails first, the increased load causes the second weakest element to fail, as loads progresseively increase on the remaining elements they fail at a rate comensurate with their relative weakness. Eventually the entire structure collapses. The process takes only a few seconds. Historical examples include the Silver Bridge over the Ohio River, and the Hyatt Regency walkway collapse in Kansas City.

Anon July 25, 2014 at 7:30 PM

If you believe this I have a bridge for sale.

ClayDen July 25, 2014 at 7:58 PM

I wonder what the current margin of safety is and how it will degrade over time. Is the bridge inspectable and maintainable enough to maintain the proper margin of safety over its life? Is there any active health monitoring in place to ensure it remains safe? If not, the redesign or replacement needs to be started with adequate time to design and install the modifications or build a replacement bridge before it becomes unsafe.

chuckie the troll July 26, 2014 at 4:21 PM

Good to know that I’m mostly safe. Can I pay most of my toll next time? Or maybe we can pay most of the Cal Trans engineers who are guilty of malpractice. And as for the Chinese, why do we let them provide anything safety related?

..... July 26, 2014 at 5:48 PM

Why not have an independent peer review by a board of experts not in any way associated with the work?

nytemuvr July 26, 2014 at 8:07 PM

Might that be a “pier” review board?….Thank you, I’ll be here all week.

Atticus Thraxx July 26, 2014 at 8:55 PM

ntyemuvr your killin’ me.

Fred P. July 26, 2014 at 10:28 PM

Hmmmmm…… “Most” bolts are safe.

1. How did they arrive at that conclusion?
2. Does that mean 51.5% are safe? Or 99.9% are safe?

Reading the Sac Bee story tells me there are plenty of people who ought to be fired.

Fred P. July 27, 2014 at 6:43 AM

So 1/3 of the tested bolts failed …so I guess “most” of them are ok

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