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Sunday, May 26, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Bay Bridge Panel Tries to Trim Cost Overruns

      OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) - Closing out contracts for defective work on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge's new eastern span could cost an extra $50 million, on top of the expense of fixing poorly installed steel rods.

Since its completion in 2013, the bridge's $6.4 billion eastern span has been dogged by construction defects, including cracks that allowed corrosive salt water to seep inside bridge towers, threatening the integrity of steel rods that provide protection during earthquakes.

The $50 million figure is the worst-case scenario that could result from arbitration disputes with two bridge contractors, according to Bay Bridge Risk Manager Patrick Treacy.

"If it was up to me, that number would be zero, but we're in the middle of that process," Caltrans District 4 Director Dan McElhinney told the Toll Bridge Oversight Committee during a meeting Thursday.

The three-member panel tasked with overseeing the bridge voted in September last year to penalize two contractors found "responsible for the failure of high strength rods."

The panel seeks penalties of $8 million each from American Bridge/Fluor (ABF) and TY Lin International/Moffatt & Nichol for the failure of rods, which will cost an estimated $24 million to repair.

The committee wants an additional $3 million from ABF for incorrectly installed backfill that was supposed to stabilize the rods, and $4.2 million for delays in closing out its contract. However, the panel also agreed to pay ABF an extra $4.2 million to cover changes in "character work due to the early seismic safety opening of the bridge."

Arbitration proceedings have not yet started. Bay Bridge spokeswoman Leah Robinson-Leach could not provide an estimate on when the state expects to start that process or close out the contracts.

During the Thursday meeting, Bay Bridge Chief Engineer Brian Maroney detailed plans to test and retrofit the seismic stabilization rods in coming months.

Maroney said engineers have compiled mounds of data to incorporate "as-built conditions" into a computerized model that will test the bridge's ability to withstand a "100-year seismic event."

The data include the actual strength levels of steel rods that were imported from China.

A report commissioned by the California Senate in 2014 found that Bay Bridge officials ignored warnings about welding problems with Chinese-imported anchor rods and failed to adequately test the rods before installing them.

"A small percentage of steel came from China," Maroney told the panel on Thursday.

The results of the seismic computer-model tests will be reviewed by the Toll Bridge Program Seismic Safety Peer Review Panel, Maroney said.

In addition to the computerized test, engineers will create mock-ups - miniature models - strain them with earthquake-like conditions, and analyze them for their ability to withstand a seismic event.

Engineers will conduct additional tests on the ability of cracked rods and rods with nuts missing from their foundations to withstand seismic stress.

Maroney said he plans to have the results of those tests by late spring or early summer.

During the oversight panel's previous meeting, in December , committee members asked engineers and officials to explore the possibility of installing a cathodic protection system that could counteract corrosion on the bridge's eastern span.

Cathodic protection turns a metal span into a conductor that transmits the corroding effects of salt water to a structurally insignificant "sacrificial metal."

The panel made that recommendation despite objections from Maroney and other transportation officials, who said such a system is unnecessary because the eastern span was built with extra layers of steel that account for historic levels of corrosion that affect other bridges in San Francisco Bay.

Committee member Steve Heminger insisted on exploring the option anyway, pointing out that unanticipated events such as the invasion of corrosive salt water into towers that house steel rods makes adding extra layers of protection worth studying.

Malcom Dougherty, newly appointed chairman of the panel, added that the Federal Highway Administration has recommended exploring a cathodic protection system on the bridge as well.

Maroney said the bridge was designed to make such a system unnecessary because he has seen other bridges that use that system fall into disrepair when maintenance budgets are slashed during recessions.

Despite his misgivings about the plan, Maroney said, he consulted with the contractor TY Lin International about finding engineering firms experienced with cathodic systems.

The chief engineer said he and the contractor are narrowing down a list of eight engineering firms to about three, and that he expects to submit a detailed report on proposals for the system by the panel's next meeting in May.

"We heard you loud and clear," Maroney said. "You want scope, schedule and cost."

By the time the panel holds its next quarterly meeting in May, the three-member committee tasked with overseeing the Bay Bridge will have changed.

Longtime committee member Will Kempton announced he will retire from his job as executive director of the California Transportation Commission and from his role as a member of the bridge oversight panel on March 31.

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