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New Bridge Already Needs New Paint

Thursday, July 24, 2014

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Although well shy of its first birthday, the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge already needs to be repainted, according to a new report.

Thousands of small steel particles have become embedded in the white paint of the new Eastern Span and are causing rust stains, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The $6.4 billion structure opened Sept. 2, 2013.

The particles came from steel grinding work performed while the main self-anchored suspension tower was being connected. The single 525-foot-tall tower features a unique design with a 137-strand main cable.

Bay Bridge

The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge opened less than a year ago, but the San Francisco Chronicle reports that its bright white paint already needs to be redonea job ballparked at $1 million.

Crews are currently removing the steel bits, and bridge officials estimate it will cost $1 million to clean and repaint the main tower.

Who Pays?

Bridge officials are talking to the main contractor, joint venture American Bridge/Fluor, to determine responsibility for the repaint cost. However, taxpayers will foot about half the bill, the officials told the Chronicle.

Workers are using detergent to remove the particles; they then will remove the paint and rust to bare steel and  prime and paint the tower. Additional work is being done to repaint areas where scratches or other damage have started to rust, accoring to the Chronicle.

California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) spokesperson Brigetta Smith said there was no problem with the coating system.

According to a Caltrans' associate chemical testing engineer, two types of coatings were used on the bridge: a polysiloxane on structural steel and Noxyde on the cable. The white color was a special color characterized in this document from Caltrans.

Work is expected to last through the summer.

Contractor vs. Caltrans

According to the Chronicle, American Bridge/Fluor blamed the problem on Caltrans' decision to have the tower painted in China where it was fabricated, rather than priming and finishing it onsite. This meant risking damage as the bridge was erected, the contractor argued.

Caltrans said it wanted the bridge painted in China to prevent corrosion during the tower's trip to the U.S. Caltrans also told the Chronicle that the contractor had failed to cover the tower with tarps during work.

"Some of it is damage caused by contractor operations, and some of it is from additional work..." Andrew Fremier, deputy director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, told the news outlet.

American Bridge/Fluor
Fluor / Eric Christianson

"It is a white bridge—it does show dirt and grime. We want to put in some energy to make it look nice," Andrew Fremier, of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, told the Chronicle.

"Some of it is from the traveling public," and steel barriers hit by vehicles are also being repainted, Fremier said.

'Make It Look Nice'

The span's white paint was included on a list of maintenance concerns revealed in May. A memo issued by Tony Anziano, Toll Bridge Program Manager, noted that "white paint may require additional cost to maintain, depending on aesthetic choices."

Fremier told the Chronicle: "It is a white bridge—it does show dirt and grime. We want to put in some energy to make it look nice."

The structure is managed by the Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee, comprised of representatives from Caltrans, the California Transportation Committee, and the Bay Area Toll Authority.

Bolts and Other Issues

Only one item on Anziano's list—bolts and rods installed on the main span—was considered "significantly beyond what would be normally anticipated for a structure of this type."

The bolts have been the troubled project's biggest headache since March 2013, when workers started tightening nuts on the massive bolts—only to discover days later that 32 of them had broken loose.

So far, it has cost $25 million to remediate problems with the 2008 anchor rods. Costs for other rods and bolts won't be known until this summer when the current testing program is completed, Anziano said. The testing, which is required to develop a remediation strategy, has already cost $17.6 million.


Editor's Note: This article was updated July 25, 2014, at 11:48 a.m. ET to include bridge coating specifications provided by Caltrans.


Tagged categories: Bridges; DOT; Maintenance coating work; Rust; Steel

Comment from Gary Niles, (7/24/2014, 9:22 AM)

Made and painted in China, wow what could go wrong with that?

Comment from Ron Cros, (7/24/2014, 11:09 AM)

The tax payers will foot the bill! When State and government work go wrong the tax payers are always on the hook.

Comment from Daniel Grossmann, (7/24/2014, 11:24 AM)

I’m glad it wasn’t painted the same color as rust!

Comment from Billy Russell, (7/24/2014, 5:25 PM)

A clear example as to why federal DOT should adopt site specific specifications and standards for infrastructure projects that are 80% paid for with federal money but 0 federal requirements come with that check, Inspection firms should be required to be bonded and held liable for failures like this, I bet they had inspectors on the clock day/night but none of them are held accountable for a damn thing just business as usual, This industry needs serious changes to end stuff like this, hold Bonding companies liable, Inspection firms have to be held accountable legally period.

Comment from Bill Oak, (7/25/2014, 1:32 AM)

The paint applied in China was according to Caltrans spec using "International Paints" approved products. The problem of rust particles embedded in the coating surface is a site erection problem, caused by the ironworkers failing to take preventative measures during welding, grinding and erection. This is a common problem worldwide where the finish coat is applied prior to erection, During my 35+ years career in the coatings industry I have seen this many times and have had to ensure remedial works are carried out, often at great expense.

Comment from Warren Brand, (7/25/2014, 8:36 AM)

What kind of coating was used? I’m not sure I understand how lose pieces of steel could embed themselves in a fully cured, hard-finished coating system.

Comment from Jodi Temyer, (7/25/2014, 11:55 AM)

After the story was published, we received more information from Caltrans about the white paint used. That document is now linked in the story.

Comment from peter gibson, (7/25/2014, 4:58 PM)

What a damn mess.Maybe it is not humanly possible to predict all contingencies.

Comment from Peter Gillies, (7/28/2014, 2:38 AM)

Many years ago we used to clean rust stains from metal cutting swarf off coated roofs with mild acid... If recoating better to do it with Fluoropolymer.

Comment from Warren Brand, (7/28/2014, 8:19 AM)

Hi Jodi, Thanks for the head’s up. Can someone explain to me the propensity to work from performance specifications rather than specifying a specific product from a specific manufacturer?

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (7/28/2014, 8:59 AM)

Warren - careless use of grinders spewing out very hot bits of steel can easily melt even hard-cured coatings enough to stick/embed.

Comment from James Albertoni, (7/29/2014, 10:25 AM)

Warren, To answer your question regarding performance specs....government agencies are required to list a minimum of two (preferably three) products for competitive reasons and must allow "equals". Therefore, even if you list specific products, the spec is still a performance based spec since any products with similar performance to the ones specified have to be allowed. With all the formula changes, name changes, company changes to keep track of, it's often easier to just do a generic performance spec.

Comment from Karen Fischer, (7/29/2014, 10:41 AM)

As we see more and more owners opting for "signature bridges" such as this, you are going to see more and more design problems, especially when you have some components manufactured in other countries. And a white bridge? From the very beginning, the choice of color was going to be a aesthetic nightmare requiring countless dollars to maintain. It's only taxpayer dollars though, so what the heck.... Gone are the days when a bridge was designed to transport people and vehicles across an obstacle. We now have to have them look "awesome" and be some sort of tourist attraction. There are tried and true designs. As for the embedded particles, it would be interesting to view these under magnification to see if they are, in fact, from a grinding operations, or, were in fact, poor original surface preparation prior to painting in China.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (7/30/2014, 9:05 AM)

Choosing a white signature bridge virtually guarantees color/staining/matching issues - particularly if you topcoat it in the shop. The one I saw onsite during construction had a LOT of field welding/grinding/assembly. Steel guys (who are doing the welding and assembly) often don't really pay much attention to how paint is affected by their operations.

Comment from Richard Frost, (7/31/2014, 4:34 AM)

When we re-painted the Forth Rail Bridge in Scotland, the engineers had the wit to retain its original signature red oxide color. The old guys weren't stupid! In addition, your link says this was a zinc rich/polysiloxane job? Re-coating that should be fun. Using a well proven, conventional multi-coat spec applied by good contractors under a competent inspection regime without an architect specifying a challenging color (white) would at least give predictable, reliable results even though its initial cost might be higher. Sounds like it would be cheaper in the long run.

Comment from William Feliciano, (8/1/2014, 2:06 PM)

I would think that if the particles are confined to areas adjacent to faying/connection points, then the contamination could likely stem from steel erection operations, grinding,etc. But if it is widespread across the entire length of tower, away from connection points, then one could conclude that shop operations in China are responsible, with poor inspection. In that case, it wouldnn't have taken long for the flecks of steel to rust - likely to occur during the long voyage to CA. If this were the case, these should have been seen prior to erection.

Comment from Rex Jones, (12/30/2014, 3:36 AM)

To bad this forum doesn't allow room for pictures from the inspectors that were on site during this project. The areas assigned for inspections were all grouped off in sections. Just like any high profile government site/project, other inspectors opinions or observations were highly restricted and minimized. One of your daily requirements was to take photo documentation of issues and notify your direct supervisors. If it didn't go anywhere right then it was usually do to the tight political constraints of opening on time regardless, as long as it wasn't a safety issue. Thanks for another experience of lessons learned!

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