A temporary fix has the on-again, off-again opening of California’s Bay Bridge back on, but bridge officials question whether the contractor implicated in the delays should now receive a $20 million bonus for delivering the project on time.
Over the weekend, 3,500 pounds of steel plates were installed on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge to provide seismic stability until a permanent retrofit for broken bolts is completed, the bridge's oversight committee announced on Monday (Aug. 19).
In July, the Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee released its investigative report into the bolts that broke on the bridge in the spring, laying blame for the problem on several parties, including joint venture American Bridge/Fluor, the bridge's contractor.
Photos: mtc.ca.gov / Noah Berger
The Sept. 3 opening date of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge is back on after a temporary seismic retrofit fix was approved and installed. The temporary steel saddle fix will be completed around mid-December.
Last month, the bridge committee said that the bridge's opening would be pushed back to mid-December while work was done to fabricate and install a steel saddle retrofit to fix massive anchor rods, or bolts, that popped loose in March as crews started tightening them.
After a months-long scramble to keep the $6.4 billion project on track, the Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee unanimously approved the temporary fix at a meeting Thursday (Aug. 15).
Just days before, the Federal Highway Administration put its stamp of approval on the plan, stating that its review team saw no reason to delay opening the bridge to traffic while the shear key retrofit was being completed.
Now, however, officials and lawmakers are questioning whether American Bridge/Fluor should receive the $20 million bonus built into its 2010 contract, despite the contractor's share of responsibility for the bad bolts.
"That's the deal, and Caltrans has told us they fully expect them to put in for it," Randy Rentschler, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Bay Area Toll Authority, told the San Francisco Chronicle.
According to the newspaper, the joint venture also received a $16 million bonus last year for meeting construction deadlines and staying within budget during earlier construction phases.
When asked about the bonus during the Aug. 15 meeting, Steve Heminger, executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, said, "That's an unanswered question.
"First of all, the contractor has to finish the work that they are required to do to earn that bonus, and that work is not complete. Once the contractor believes that work is complete, they need to submit an invoice to us, and then we need to consider it."
"We issued a report in July that indicated that we thought that there were multiple responsible parties for the failure of the bolts and that the contractor was one of them," Heminger added.
"I think the story is ending well, but I think the road to get here was far too long and far too windy," said Steve Heminger, executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
Sen. Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres), an engineer, stated his concern about the contractor qualifying for a bonus.
"The news that the 11th-hour decision to open the Bay Bridge will result in a $20 million bonus warrants an investigation," Cannella said in a statement Monday (Aug. 19).
"I am working with my colleagues in the legislature to ensure that this decision to use a last-minute temporary fix is completely investigated. ... As an engineer, I continue to be baffled by the decisions made in the building of this bridge."
The Temporary Fix
The steel plates were installed in large rocker bearings under the deck of the new eastern span. According to Bay Bridge spokesman Andrew Gordon, they act as wedges that allow seismic gear to move in an earthquake, local CBS affiliate 5KPIX reported.
Three independent authorities also confirmed that the fix is more than adequate to allow traffic on the new bridge while the permanent, steel saddle retrofit is completed.
"I think the story is ending well, but I think the road to get here was far too long and far too windy," said Heminger at the Thursday morning meeting.
"And I think that all of us in the Bay Area have some soul searching to do about whether or not we're really able to deliver major infrastructure projects in the era of these endless do loops we seem to go through—in public reviews, in environmental reviews, in political bickering," Heminger added.
Work on the permanent steel saddle will continue as planned through December. The saddle solution meets all design requirements and "applies direct preload to the lower housing via the radial forces that are developed from the main vertical post-tensioning force being applied as intended in the original design."
The saddles will sit on top of the base of the shear keys, with steel tendons inside that spread down either side of the concrete cap beam.
Investigation Places Blame
In April, Caltrans released hundreds of pages of documents that showed its inspectors had found structural integrity issues with some of the bolts, or anchor rods, years ago. The agency's engineers ordered tests on the bolts in 2008, but those tests were never done after the contractor disputed whether they were required.
The rods are used for seismic stability and range from nine to 24 feet long and three inches in diameter.
Media recently toured the fabrication site where the bridge's steel saddle is being made.
Experts previously described the galvanized steel rods as "vulnerable," and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) had banned their use on other bridges because of the risk.
The committee's July analysis included the panel's review of other bolts on the bridge, an approved fix for the problem, and a final investigative report that lays out the chronology of events and who was responsible.
Several responsible parties were identified in the July report for different aspects of the investigation's findings:
Caltrans, the owner and operator;
T.Y. Lin International/Moffatt & Nichol Design Joint Venture, the engineer of record;
American Bridge/Fluor Joint Venture, the contractor for the superstructure; and
Kiewit/FCI/Manson Joint Venture, the contractor for the E2/T1 marine foundation.
Rentschler said in July that Caltrans would seek undetermined monetary damages from T.Y. Lin International/Moffatt & Nichol and American Bridge/Fluor, The Sacramento Bee reported.
Rentschler said in March that $300 million in contingency funds were built into the original budget, and that fixing the bolts would not make a dent in that amount.
As for the other 2,210 rods, the committee found none to have failed or show evidence of hydrogen embrittlement.
Steel Saddle Can’t Save Bridge Schedule (July 10, 2013)
Agency Probed on Bad Bolt Decision (May 16, 2013)
Bay Bridge Bolts Lacked Extra Testing (April 22, 2013)
Bad Bolts Snag Bay Bridge Work (April 2, 2013)