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Agency Probed on Bad Bolt Decision

Thursday, May 16, 2013

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Legislators grilled California Department of Transportation officials on Tuesday, May 14, about the decision-making process that led to building the new Bay Bridge eastern span with galvanized-steel rods that experts say are vulnerable to cracking and the agency had banned for other bridges because of that very risk.

The hearing was held just a day after the Federal Highway Administration agreed to review Caltrans' decision-making process and its proposed $10 million fix for the 32 steel rods that have already failed on the $6.4 billion Bay Bridge project.

The massive bolts, also called anchor rods, are used for seismic stability and range from nine to 24 feet long and three inches in diameter. In March, the bolts started popping loose just days after crews started tightening them. 

Caltrans bridge probe
Caltrans

The Federal Highway Administration launched a probe into Caltrans after dozens of anchor rods broke during construction of the Bay Bridge's new eastern span.

In April, Caltrans released hundreds of pages of documents that showed its inspectors found structural integrity issues with some of the bolts years ago and stated that 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.

'Deliberately' Ignored Standards

State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) led the questioning and pointed to Caltrans' bridge design standards dating to 2000 that prohibited the use of these rods when galvanized, The San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Sen. Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres), who is a licensed civil engineer, also took part in the questioning.

Malcolm Dougherty, director of Caltrans, and Brian Maroney, chief engineer, told DeSaulnier and members of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee that the agency had decided the risks were worth taking.

"This project has its own criteria," Dougherty said. "Absolute due consideration by all the technical teams [happened] before we moved forward with that decision."

Maroney said that a team of engineers and consultants signed off on "these rods, these loads, these conditions."

Bay Bridge
Flickr / sirgious

The $6.4 billion Bay Bridge project is scheduled for completion on Labor Day weekend, but recent setbacks have many questioning whether the date will be pushed back.

The three agencies managing the project—Caltrans, the Metropolitan Transportation Committee, and the Bay Area Toll Authority—promised to provide an update by the end of the month on who selected the bolts, how they were selected, and whether the rods will be repaired in time for the scheduled Labor Day weekend opening.

Cannella issued a statement after the hearing, stating, "As a civil engineer, I left today's hearings with concerns over the construction of the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge.

"In addition, when it comes to the bolts that we have seen fail, Caltrans deliberately chose to ignore industry and their own standards for the types of bolt material to be used in a marine environment. This simply cannot be shrugged off as merely a 'bad batch' of bolts. Someone must be held accountable," stated Cannella.

Double-Baked Bolt Problems

Initial testing pointed to hydrogen for the bolt failures, but problems dating back several years point to a series of missteps that could have prevented the problem earlier.

On Oct. 31, 2008, Caltrans' then-resident engineer directed American Bridge/Fluor, the project's main contractor for the eastern span, to conduct additional magnetic particle testing on the bolts, state documents show.

However, the company's project director, Michael Flowers, replied to Caltrans on Nov. 3, 2008, saying that the agency "does NOT require [emphasis in original]" the bolts to be tested. State documents do not show a reply from Caltrans, and there is no indication that the tests were ever performed.

The Metropolitan Transportation Committee was briefed on the bolt problems April 10, and Tony Anziano, Caltran's toll bridge project manager, told MTC that there was previously a "paperwork" problem.

caltrans
Caltrans

State senator and civil engineer Anthony Cannella stated that Caltrans "deliberately chose to ignore" standards regarding the bolts, which the agency had previously banned from other bridge projects because of the risk of failure.

After the bolts were tempered with 800-degree heat, the contractor reportedly failed to produce documents showing the bolts had been properly heat-treated, so Caltrans ordered that they be baked again, Anziano said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Because they were heated twice, the bolts were much harder than required by industry standards; however, Caltrans believes that extra hardness may have ultimately led them to fail.

Inspectors said that the bolts, made by Ohio-based Dyson Corp., had failed to meet certain testing criteria on three occasions.

These tests, designed to detect cracks in the first set of 96 bolts, would have been performed when the rods were still accessible. Now, access to the bolts is limited because the rods go entirely through the concrete cap in some areas.

Last week, California Gov. Jerry Brown spoke to reporters about the Bay Bridge after attending a memorial service at the California Highway Patrol Academy. When asked if the broken bolts might delay the bridge's opening, Brown said, "Don't know if it's a setback. I mean, look, sh*t happens."

   

Tagged categories: Bridges; Corrosion; Department of Transportation (DOT); Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); Galvanized steel; Retrofits; Steel

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