$34M Settlement Reached for Defective Work on Bay Bridge

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Bay Area toll users will pay $34 million to settle a dispute with a contractor accused of doing defective work on the new eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

In 2015, the panel that oversees the bridge fined two contractors $8.5 million each for faulty anchor rods that are designed to provide extra protection during an earthquake. Botched sealing and grouting jobs allowed corrosive salt water to seep into shafts and weaken the 424 anchor rods, two of which failed critical strength tests in 2015.

On Thursday, the three-member Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee unanimously approved a settlement with one of the contractors, joint venture American Bridge/Fluor.

The contractor had filed an arbitration claim in 2016 seeking $49.2 million plus interest and attorneys’ fees. The claim included a demand for $40.7 million in unpaid work and the rescission of the $8.5 million fine imposed by the panel.

Under the settlement approved Thursday, American Bridge/Fluor will receive $25.5 million and the $8.5 million fine against it will be waived, for a total of $34 million in compensation.

The illuminated San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge as seen from the Embarcadero.

“Given the risk of not settling, I think this is a pretty good settlement,” said panel member and Caltrans Director Laurie Berman.

After the meeting, committee Chairman Steve Heminger, executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, defended the settlement approval. He insisted that the $8.5 million fine was covered in the loss the contractor accepted as part of the settlement.

“There was no waiver of the fine,” Heminger said. “Given that they got $25 million less than they asked for, the $8 million got paid.”

With that dispute resolved, the state will now close out its $2 billion contract with American Bridge/Fluor for its work on the Bay Bridge.

The panel also fined two other entities for their roles in installing faulty anchor rods in the bridge: project designer T.Y. Lin / Moffett & Nichol and the state government agency Caltrans.

Berman told the panel that the state “has a source of funding” to cover its portion of the $24 million fine. However, Caltrans officials had no update on whether the designer, T.Y. Lin International /Moffatt & Nichol, would pay.

Heminger said enforcing the fine against T.Y. Lin/Moffatt & Nichol remains a priority for the panel.

The bridge’s $6.4 billion eastern span, completed in 2013, was designed to withstand an 8.5-magnitude earthquake, but several defects – including cracks in the foundation, brittle support rods, questionable Chinese and Korean steel and bolt holes that leak water through the deck – have raised alarms about safety.

The state’s legislative analyst and engineering experts have said most of the landmark bridge’s problems stem from its complex design, which was chosen for “aesthetics,” rather than safety or ingenuity.

In December, Bay Bridge Chief Engineer Brian Maroney reassured the panel that lower than expected yield strengths in some parts of the eastern span’s only support structure will not undermine the bridge’s ability to withstand an earthquake.

Microscopic cracks were also found in the 26-foot anchor rods that help stabilize the bridge’s 520-foot support tower, but no rods were replaced.

An $8.5 million project to replace grout, or backfill that holds the rods in place, was completed in June 2017. Sensors were also installed in 18 of the 424 anchor rod shafts, though their effectiveness in detecting corrosion has been questioned.

Also on Thursday, panel members learned that the state could be liable for up to $11 million to clean up a contaminated piece of land on Yerba Buena Island that it acquired from the U.S. Navy in 2001 to build the new eastern span.

Heminger said he does not believe the state should have to cover that cost, given that the U.S. Navy is responsible for the contamination.

“We’re not going to pay a dime to clean up the Navy’s mess if I have anything to say about,” Heminger said in a post-meeting interview.

The panel plans to hold another meeting in September to discuss approving extra funds to complete high-risk construction work this year, including the demolition of remaining structures from the old eastern span.

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