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Caltrans Seeks Damages from Builder

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

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The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) is ending its contract with the main contractor of the new eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

The state DOT is also seeking penalties and damages for delays and quality of work, including the corrosion already found in the structure’s steel tower rods.

Caltrans announced Thursday (Sept. 24) that it was seeking approval from the Bay Bridge project’s governing body, the Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee (TBPOC), to close its contract with construction team American Bridge/Fluor (ABF) and hold them and other contractors financially responsible for what it deemed “faulty work” as well as project delays.

© / ChenRobert

Caltrans acquired permission from the Bay Bridge project's governing body to seek damages from the main bridge contractor for "faulty work" and project delays, it said in a statement.

Although the eastern span of the bridge opened to traffic in 2013, the new $6.4 billion bridge was not yet accepted by the TBPOC. Before closing the contract, Caltrans recommended that TBPOC deduct damages from the final payment to ABF.

Caltrans estimated the cost to fix the existing problems with the structure to be between $15 million and $25 million. Not all of these costs would be recouped from the payment withholdings.

Brian Maroney, the bridge’s chief engineer, told the TBPOC that toll dollars would have to cover any portion of repairs it could not recoup from ABF or other contractors, including bridge-design firm T.Y. Lin International, SF Gate reported.  

Tallying the Costs

Permission was granted, Law 360 reported Sept. 25, for Caltrans to seek more than $15 million in penalties from ABF. The figure includes approximately $10.7 million in damages and $4.5 million for the material failure.

Of the $10.7 million, $8 million relates to a 2013 investigation into the failure of 32 of the east pier’s rods that required a $24 million “saddle retrofit” repair. Caltrans, ABF, and design-build team T.Y. Lin and Moffatt & Nichol were held equally responsible for this incident, according to the investigation’s findings, and would split the penalty.

Another $2.7 million is sought from ABF for delays in completing the contract.

Of the $4.5 million figure, $1.5 million will be held back in order to cover “capital outlay support costs” resulting from the delays.

The balance, $3 million, relates to the failure of the 400 improperly sealed anchor rods in the tower foundation.

The builder will receive a payment, however, of up to $4.2 million for a change order that enabled the new span to open early, KQED reported.

SFGate indicated that the question remains open as to whether bridge tolls would be used to pay for the remaining work costs.

According to transit officials, they will not necessarily have to boost tolls, as there is enough toll-financed funding to cover the estimated repairs.

Sticking Points

More than 400 high-strength steel rods embedded in the tower foundation were not adequately protected from the elements, according to Caltrans.


As reported earlier in the project, Caltrans discovered water at the bottom of the tower where 424 rods anchor the span to the base. The 25-foot rods are protected by metal sleeves filled with grout and covered with caulk caps that are meant to keep them dry.

Nearly all of the rods were exposed to seawater when the seals failed, and 100 continued to flood after being dried out, SFGate said.

Caltrans reported that the threads of one rod had stripped through its bolt and failed, prompting a thorough investigation of all rods last fall.

Two were removed for testing, and the remaining rods underwent in-place earthquake-force tests. Testing showed the bolts could still withstand a severe catastrophic earthquake. 

Although the 26-foot-long rods were designed to keep the tower upright during a major earthquake, Caltrans said engineering analysis conducted last fall shows that the rods are not critical to the bridge’s performance and are a redundant system.

Even if none of the rods were present, it said, the bridge is expected to perform its lifeline function, weathering ground motions that only occur once every 1,500 years.

Maroney told the Contra Costa Times that because “ninety-nine percent [of the rods] carried the full seismic load” during testing, he couldn’t justify the expense of replacing the rods. Still, with saltwater intruding, he said, “The rods are degrading out there right now.”

Many other rods are said to show tiny cracks that could indicate hydrogen embrittlement, the same problem that is believed by some to have led to the 2013 failure. However, Caltrans disputes this; Maroney told SFGate that there is “no solid evidence at all” that hydrogen infiltrated the steel by way of the seawater.

Again, he indicated that money shouldn’t be spent on additional investigations into this particular issue. However, he said the prospect of spending millions to protect the rods from the saltwater leaking in is a reasonable investment in prolonging the life of the bridge.

Questions Remain

There are those who wonder about the repair estimates, according to SFGate, which reported that some critics question whether the figure posed is merely a “guesstimate.” According to those experts, they believe the extent of the corrosion threat remains unknown at this time.

“I don’t think they understand what they are talking about,” Yun Chung, a retired Bechtel engineer, told the news site. “They really need to understand the failure mechanism for the broken rod before they come up with remedial action.”

At this time, the fix that Caltrans recommends is to loosen the rods using special jacking equipment, remove the existing grout and clean the rods. A corrosion-resistant grease or high-strength grout would go into the sleeves, and the rods would be re-tensioned, but to a lesser degree to avoid stress-induced corrosion.

According to Caltrans, rust is the primary threat to the rods, not a sudden fracture from hydrogen embrittlement.


Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; Bridges; Corrosion protection; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Latin America; Lawsuits; North America; Quality Control; Rust

Comment from peter gibson, (9/29/2015, 3:57 PM)

Such a massive project...difficult to cover all bases. Caltrans did a lot of the inspection work; now gun for the GC that is ridiculous. Free money again.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (10/8/2015, 1:38 PM)

Peter - Caltrans is only asking for a quarter of a percent back for work that turned out to be faulty. Typically being inspected does not relieve the contractor of the obligation to do the work right.

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