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Bay Bridge Fixes Could Add Millions

Friday, May 9, 2014

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Crucial components for the seismic stability of the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge top a list of flaws that could add millions of dollars in maintenance to what is already the world's most expensive bridge.

The $6.4 billion bridge opened Sept. 2, 2013, and has since been the target of a multitude of questions concerning its construction and its oversight.

Amid this chorus of criticism, the Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee, which manages the structure, has decided to open its meetings to the public for the first time.

The very first public meeting, held Tuesday (May 6), revealed a long-awaited look at maintenance concerns. The review detailed ongoing issues and tests of bolts and anchor rods but brushed aside recent media reports about water intrusion and corrosion.

TBPOC public meetings

State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord), Chairman of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee, said the committee "will look into the Caltrans report with a good deal of skepticism—because these are the same folks who approved these things in the first place."

The Oversight Committee is comprised of representatives from Caltrans, the California Transportation Committee, and the Bay Area Toll Authority.

Detailed Added Costs

Tony Anziano, Toll Bridge Program Manager, issued a memo Tuesday to address TBPOC's request for an "itemized list of defects, flaws or irregularities that have the potential to require additional cost to maintain."

According to the memo, "additional cost" means "maintenance significantly beyond what would normally be anticipated for a structure of this type." Only one problem meets that definition, Anziano wrote: the bolts and rods installed on the bridge's main self-anchored suspension span.

The bolts, also called anchor rods, have been a pain in the side of the bridge project since early March 2013, when workers started tightening nuts on the massive bolts—only to discover days later that 32 of them had broken loose.

Anziano's memo says extensive testing and evaluation are underway to assess the status and disposition of the bolts and a recommendation is expected this summer.

Bolts: $25M and Rising

Originally installed in 2008, the bolts were left to sit in rainwater for over five years. Before being installed, the bolts were tempered with 800-degree heat, but they were then heated a second time after the contractor reportedly couldn't provide documentation showing they had been properly heat-treated.

In some cases, the rods go entirely through the concrete cap, or are embedded into it, limiting access to rods in the middle portion of the cap. Therefore, fixing the broken bolts required a new solution. After reviewing three retrofit designs, the TBPOC decided on a steel saddle retrofit option.

Bay Bridge bolts

The Bay Bridge's massive bolts, some of which broke shortly after crews tightened them last year, are the only issue said to potentially have additional maintenance costs "significantly beyond what would normally be anticipated."

TBPOC later released a 130-page investigative report into the bolts. That report included a review of other bolts on the bridge, an approved fix for the problem, and a final investigative report that laid out the chronology of events and who was responsible.

(That report was later heavily criticized by two California engineers who called the agencies' understanding of hydrogen embrittlement susceptibility "woefully inadequate." The engineers said the report had "some 200 errors and technically questionable or erroneous statements.")

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 an appropriate remediation strategy, has already cost $17.6 million.

Addressing Media Attention

The memo addresses TBPOC's request for the discussion of three issues: water in the Orthotropic Box Girder (OBG), water in bike path segments, and water in pre-stressing tendons.

"However, none of these issues should require additional cost to maintain," Anziano wrote, adding that "...the first issue that has recently received much attention—water in the OBG—is not even properly characterized as a defect, flaw or irregularity."

"There are a number of issues that have been highlighted by the media that, despite opinions issued by outside entities unfamiliar with the project, should not require any additional maintenance beyond what is normal for this structure," Anziano wrote.

Brushing Off Rust Reports

One media-related issue Anziano's memo didn't touch on was a report about corrosion in the chamber that houses the main cable anchorage.

The single-tower, self-anchored suspension bridge features a unique design in which the 137-strand main cable loops over the tower and under the bridge, where the strands are inserted into sockets that are attached to thread rods; the rods pass through the walls of two chambers on the bridge's east end, where they are locked in place.

San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge
Twitter / @BayBridgeInfo

The $6.4 billion Bay Bridge holds the record as the world's most expensive bridge.

An investigation by The Sacramento Bee last month revealed rust on cable strands and inside one of the chambers. The newspaper said it consulted three independent engineering experts who said Caltrans needed to fix the issue quickly, before the corrosion left rods and cables vulnerable to cracking.

However, Caltrans said it was not concerned and that the rust is part of routine, ongoing work.

According to the newspaper, some of the strands show rust and "crack-like indentations" where they join the sockets, and "white and red-brown rust can be seen in patches" on several of the rods' threads.

Project Punch List

In February, a routine maintenance inspection revealed that hundreds of leaks had sprouted and water was dripping onto the road deck below the bridge's steel chamber. The chamber, which is supposed to be watertight, supports the Bay Bridge's suspension span.

Caltrans officials said the amount of water was minimal, and the bridge was safe, but didn't know for sure where or how the water was getting in. Engineers believed the rain water was flowing along electrical conduits and seeping into bolts securing guardrails.

According to Anziano, a "project punch list" for the self-anchored suspension span "has actively noted, for over a year, locations where water has been found." Resolving these punch list items requires removing water and surface rust and touching up the primer if needed, as well as repairing caulking and sealers if they are the cause of water intrusion.

"Reducing moisture is part of general bridge maintenance and is not a safety issue," Anziano wrote in the memo's section concerning water intrusion in the OBG segments.

He said the bridge is designed to handle moisture, hence protective primer, drain holes, and dehumidifiers inside the segments.

"We take these precautions because water will always enter structures and we are prepared for that."

Anziano acknowledged that the presence of water may have caused "some minor surface rust," but it is a well-documented issue that the contractor must fix before the project can be considered complete.

Aesthetic and 'Not Usual' Elements

Another cost Anziano addresses is the price for the span's white paint and its maintenance. Depending on "aesthetic choices that are made" the cost to paint the span is $20 million (based on 2006 dollars), and it's an issue two of the TBPOC agencies have known about since 1998.

Bay Bridge self-anchored suspension span
Wikimedia Commons / Caltrans

The Sacramento Bee reported last month that rust was present on cable strands and inside the main chamber—an issue Anziano's memo did not address.

One design element of the bridge with yet-to-be-determined maintenance costs is the dehumidification system. The cost of the current system, which includes five dehumidification units, is $1.5 million (in 2006 dollars). The units will require maintenance eventually, and the cost "could be viewed as additional" because "dehumidification is not a usual element of a bridge," Anziano said.

Steve Heminger, executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the TBPOC's chairman, told The Sacramento Bee that Anziano's report will be discussed at the Bay Area Toll Authority's May 14 meeting and will be peer-reviewed for accuracy "in coming months."

Skepticism from Senate

State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord), Chairman of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee, said the committee "will look into the Caltrans report with a good deal of skepticism—because these are the same folks who approved these things in the first place," The Sacramento Bee reported.

"Credible testimony" from experts at the University of California and others, "has led me to believe that there will be serious costs for maintenance," DeSaulnier said.

DeSaulnier announced last October that he would lead an investigation into issues on the Bay Bridge project, as well as chair a series of Senate Transportation and Housing Committee hearings to examine problems that impact all megaprojects and improvements that can be made by Caltrans management.

The committee will report on its findings, which DeSaulnier said he expects to "inspire reform measures."

At DeSaulnier's request, an outside consultant put together a report based on months of in-depth interviews with engineers and officials on the project. Published in January, the report alleged that the TBPOC kept safety issues quiet by firing and reassigning those who disagreed and urging that information be kept off the record.

While the report was not an engineering audit, it said that project transparency was "inextricably meshed" with issues of safety. The report cited "ample" evidence that key safety issues briefly appeared and then disappeared because of "extraordinary exemptions" for TBPOC from laws governing public disclosure.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Corrosion; DOT; Maintenance programs; Program/Project Management

Comment from Meg Skinitis, (5/14/2014, 12:08 PM)

How is it possible for the Oversight Committee to produce an unbiased - factual report? Do people have to die before this is properly and independently investigated? Sadly... Guess so!

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