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Bay Bridge Leaks Cause Blame Dispute

Monday, May 4, 2015

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SAN FRANCISCO—The ongoing struggle to remove water seeping through parts of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge has led to an exchange of finger-pointing between California engineers and the state's contractor.

After discovering water at the bottom of the structure's tower in September where 424 rods anchor the span to its base, the California Department of Transportation launched an investigation to test all of the rods.

Meanwhile, American Bridge/Fluor, the joint venture contractor on the $6.4 billion project, claimed responsibility for not properly filling the anchor rods' metal sleeves with grout and started working on a solution to the problem.

But the water doesn't seem to be going away, and the issue has started a debate over who is at fault and whether the contract requirements have been met, according to correspondence released by Caltrans.

Letters Debate Blame

Under Caltrans' direction, ABF started working March 6 to remove standing water from hundreds of locations. However, despite working 27 shifts to get rid of the water, "the condition of no standing water still cannot be achieved," Brian Petersen, project director for ABF, told Caltrans engineer William Casey in a letter dated April 14.

Bay Bridge water Caltrans

Letters between Caltrans and American Bridge/Fluor show the parties are at odds over who is responsible for water leaking throughout areas of the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

Petersen said it's "seemingly obvious" that voids within the tower foundation provide a "constant and consistent" flow of water back into the anchor bolt sleeves, which have no apparent "water tight seal" and also appear to have voids in and around their base—a problem not caused by ABF.

The missing water tight seal and an apparent lack of concrete fill that should be around each sleeve exacerbate the problem, which is also not ABF's fault, Petersen contended.

ABF included documentation of 354 locations where water had been removed as of Friday, April 10; by Monday, April 13, the number of water-free locations was reduced to 340.

Petersen also told Casey that 14 locations saw more than four inches of water return over the weekend; 21 locations consistently saw at least six inches of water return daily. There were also 80 locations where the water couldn't be removed.

However, the contractor estimated that it had removed "in excess of 25% the amount of water theoretically placed during the March 4th filling we performed on all Inspection Holes."

No 'Factual Basis'

Casey, in a response from Caltrans dated April 24, called the contractor's speculation of voids in the tower foundation "a theory without any factual basis."

In fact, Casey wrote, the theory "ignores the fact that water is only in the inspection holes because [ABF] water jetted into the grout and then later poured in more water without the Department's authorization."

He noted that chloride tests show that the water is fresh water and not bay water, which indicates it came from the water jetting operation.

Casey said that Petersen's void theory does not address the second grouting issue, which involves "defective" work on anchor bolts that appeared to be fully grouted, but were found to be ungrouted and concealed by a grout cap—the issue for which ABF previously acknowledged responsibility.

If it weren't for this second grouting issue, the contractor wouldn't have had to water jet at all, and "therefore would not be continuing to work on the tower anchor bolts today," Casey wrote.

Attempts to remove water as "alleged evidence" of another source "ignores the fact that water is there because [ABF] placed it there," Casey shot back.

Contract Delays

Citing "the lack of response" from Caltrans and "a failure of the Engineer to perform," Petersen said ABF has been waiting since November 2014 for Caltrans to tell it how to proceed with filling the bolt inspection holes left by water jetting.

Fluor / Eric Christianson

The $6.4 billion bridge project has been marred by numerous issues, from anchor rods that snapped during construction to reports of rust on cable strands less than a year after opening.

Additionally, Caltrans has yet to provide ABF with requirements to achieve contract acceptance, "despite [the contractor's] request some [27] days ago," the letter stated.

Petersen said that since these delays have extended the company's work past the Dec. 31, 2014 contract completion date, ABF plans to seek recovery of the costs associated with Caltrans-directed extra work as well as commensurate time extension.

Casey responded that Caltrans directed the contractor on April 22 not to grout the holes and to remove all equipment and materials related to the grouting operations. However, ABF is still expected to remove all standing water.

As for the perceived delay regarding contract acceptance, Casey told Petersen the requirements were laid out in a January letter, and an additional response was "not necessary since the requirements have not changed."

Tests Show Cracks

In February, Caltrans announced the results of the testing revealed tiny cracks on one of the improperly grouted anchor rods.

However, even if the rods that remain in place are cracked and show signs of corrosion, Caltrans said it was "not a safety issue" and would result only in extra damage to the tower if they were to fail in an earthquake, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Anchor rods have posed multiple problems for Caltrans. Another set of rods, designed to connect two columns that rise from the underwater foundation to the concrete pier cap, broke just days after crews tightened them in place in March 2013.

Originally installed in 2008, the holes surrounding the anchor rods had been left to fill with rainwater for five years before being tightened.

Corrosion Warnings

Caltrans announced in February 2014 that hundreds of leaks sprouted in a supposedly watertight steel chamber after a rain storm.

The agency said the leaks were discovered during a routine maintenance inspection.

San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge

American Bridge/Fluor told Caltrans it will seek to recover costs for Caltrans-directed work that took place after the Dec. 31, 2014 contract completion date.

But The Chronicle recently reported that it had obtained documents showing Caltrans knew the steel support structure let in rain and was warned of corrosion potential at least a year before the bridge opened.

"Water is entering and ponding in the interior," Darryl Schram, a Caltrans senior bridge engineer, wrote in a May 2012 memo to Tony Anziano, then head of Caltrans' toll bridge program.

"To prevent corrosion of the bridge interior, water intrusion and ponding must be reduced and/or eliminated," Schram stated, according to The Chronicle.

Rust Reported

The Sacramento Bee launched an investigation in April 2014 that reportedly revealed rust on cable strands and inside one of the steel chambers.

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.

Andrew Gordon, a spokesman for Caltrans, told The Bee in an email that that the rust was attributable to "metal shavings/particles generated by grinding and other work."

Casey, who took the newspaper on its tour of the bridge, said the white residue was zinc corrosion, "proof that the 'sacrificial' zinc layer is doing its job, protecting the steel."

The bridge opened Sept. 2, 2013, and holds the record as both the largest public infrastructure project in California's history and the most expensive bridge in the world.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Contractors; Corrosion; Department of Transportation (DOT); Disputes; North America; Program/Project Management; Waterjetting

Comment from peter gibson, (5/5/2015, 12:59 PM)

On a project that size something can go wrong. Difficult to cover all bases.

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