OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) - The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge was considered a monumental feat of civil engineering when it was completed in 1936 - but that was a long time ago.
The bridge linked San Francisco with the East Bay as millions of Americans turned to automobiles as their main mode of transportation.
Fifty-three years later, a 7.1-magnitude earthquake rocked the mammoth structure and a 50-foot section of the upper deck collapsed, killing one driver.
The eastern span had to be rebuilt, to withstand an 8.5-magnitude earthquake, using modern techniques and the highest standards in civil engineering.
But reconstruction was dogged by delays, cost overruns, materials unacceptable by state standards and other problems, which transportation officials are still struggling to resolve.
When it was completed in 2013, the $6.5-billion eastern span was $5 billion more expensive than planned and six years behind schedule.
Critics say the pressure to contain costs and meet deadlines brought poor management choices that will continue to cost taxpayers and toll-payers, who must foot the bill to fix the unanticipated invasion of corrosive saltwater inside the structure.
Other problems include cracks in the foundation, missing sections of deck drainage that allow rainwater to bleed inside the structure, and saltwater seeping into shafts around anchor rods, which provide extra support in an earthquake.
The three-member panel tasked with overseeing the bridge's eastern span wants to claw back $24 million from three contractors found responsible for the failure of seismic stabilization rods.
The panel voted in September to end its contract with the eastern span's main contractor, the joint venture American Bridge/Fluor, and to demand repayment of $8 million for the failing rods, $1.5 million for delays and $3 million for incorrectly installed anchor rod grout.
The panel also wants to reclaim $8 million from the contractor TY Lin/Moffett & Nichol for the failing rods, but during a Thursday meeting, the bridge's Panel Oversight Committee suggested that dispute may have to be settled through arbitration.
Panel member Malcolm Dougherty negotiating a resolution that would include TY Lin/Moffet providing at-cost consulting and engineering services to settle claims over the unacceptable rods.
Bay Bridge chief engineer Brian Maroney said that even without those 424 anchor rods, the bridge's new eastern span could ride out an earthquake with minimal impact.
"We identified that these rods are not critical," Maroney said. "They only serve to transfer or carry loads in a very large earthquake. Even if magically all the rods were gone, you'd still be able to function as a lifeline route."
Maroney said he based that conclusion on a "conservative" test by a computerized model that incorporated assumptions about the bridge's design.
He said analysts are sifting through construction records, sampling steel and taking into account as-built conditions to generate a more accurate picture of how the eastern span would perform in an earthquake without the rods.
Despite those reassurances, one engineering expert said bridge managers are downplaying the importance of the anchor rods.
"The idea that these hold-downs are not necessary because the tower weighs so much is preposterous on its face," said Bernard Cuzzillo, a mechanical engineer with the Berkeley Research Company. "The tower's weight is small compared to the weight of the earth that's moving under it."