Bad Bolts: New Bay Bridge Won’t Open As Scheduled, Current Bay Bridge Needs To Be Closed For Four Day Span

5:46 PM: The opening of the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge was delayed again today, nearly 24 years after a 50-foot, 250-ton section of its upper deck collapsed in the Loma Prieta earthquake on Oct. 17, 1989.

Delayed for many years by political squabbling over the design for the new span and various technical problems, the span’s opening is now being delayed because it’s taking longer than expected to repair failed anchor bolts on a pier along the span just east of Yerba Buena Island.

The new span had been scheduled to open on Sept. 3, the day after Labor Day, but the Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee, consisting of the executive directors of the Bay Area Toll Authority, the California Transportation Commission and Caltrans, told state legislators in Sacramento that the contractor for the $6.4 billion project now forecasts that that steel saddle retrofit of the failed bolts on the east pier won’t be completed until Dec. 10.

A new opening date hasn’t yet been set. Committee members said in a news release that the date will be based on “actual completion of the east pier retrofit work, weather windows, traffic impacts and other information as it becomes available.”

They said, “the bridge opening may or many not coincide with a Monday holiday weekend and may involve shorter advance notice to the public than prior closures.”

Before the new span opens, the entire bridge will need to be closed for four days to allow workers to complete construction work at the Oakland touchdown and the Yerba Buena Island tunnel and transition traffic from the old span to the new one.

A public briefing will be presented at the MTC’s Bay Area Toll Authority meeting in Oakland Wednesday morning. That committee consists of Bay Area local elected officials who oversee toll funds.

Metropolitan Transportation and Caltrans officials learned in March that 32 of the 96 bolts installed on the pier just east of Yerba Buena Island had failed.

The bolts, also known as anchor rods, which are located near where the new span’s self-anchored suspension span meets its skyway, popped out several inches after being tightened. They were manufactured in Ohio in 2008.

The bolts are holding in place seismic safety devices known as shear keys that help prevent swaying during an earthquake.

The Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee said in a 130-page report issued today that the rod failures were caused by hydrogen embrittlement, a process caused by allowing hydrogen into hardened steel that corrodes and weakens the rods.

The report concludes that the parties responsible for the rod failures are Caltrans, which is the owner and operator of the new east span, T. Y. Lin International/Moffatt & Nichol Design Joint Venture, which is the engineer, and American Bridge/Fluor Joint Venture, which is the contractor for the self-anchored suspension span.

However, the committee said it’s unnecessary to replace any of the 2,210 other rods on the self-anchored suspension section of the new span before it opens.

The committee said “the risk of near-term hydrogen embrittlement has passed” and said it’s important for the driving public’s safety to move traffic off “the seismically deficient existing east span bridge.”

The transportation agency executives said that although some of the additional rods are “highly susceptible to longer-term stress corrosion cracking, ample evidence exists that none are at high risk of near-term fracture.”

The western span of the Bay Bridge already is safer than it was in 1989 because it’s been fully retrofitted, the committee said.

Jeff Shuttleworth, Bay City News

12:13 PM: Transportation officials announced today that problems with anchor bolts on the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge will delay the span’s opening, which had been scheduled for Sept. 3.

Members of the Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee told state legislators in Sacramento this morning that the steel saddle retrofit of the failed bolts will be completed by Dec. 10. The bolts are located on a pier along the span just east of Yerba Buena Island.

Committee members said in a news release that a new date for opening the new span will be based on “actual completion of the east pier retrofit work, weather windows, traffic impacts and other information as it becomes available.”

They said, “the bridge opening may or many not coincide with a Monday holiday weekend and may involve shorter advance notice to the public than prior closures.”

The initial opening date was over the Labor Day weekend.

Before the new span opens, the whole bridge will need to be closed for four days to allow crews to complete work to transition traffic to the span at the Oakland touchdown and the Yerba Buena Island tunnel, according to the committee.

Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Caltrans officials learned in March that about a third of the 96 bolts installed on the pier had failed.

The bolts, also known as anchor rods, which are located near where the new span’s self-anchored suspension span meets its skyway, popped out several inches after being tightened.

Legislators were briefed on the matter at a closed hearing in Sacramento today.

There will be a public briefing on the issue at the MTC’s Bay Area Toll Authority meeting in Oakland on Wednesday.

MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger said at a hearing on May 20 that transportation officials feel an urgency to fix the bolt problem and open the new span as soon as possible because the motivation for building the new eastern span is to make the Bay Bridge seismically safe after it was damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

Jeff Shuttleworth, Bay City News

Please make sure your comment adheres to our comment policy. If it doesn't, it may be deleted. Repeat violations may cause us to revoke your commenting privileges. No one wants that!
  • sebra leaves

    Let’s just hope they don’t have a BART mishap during that four day closure. Otherwise, everyone might as well go on strike or take a vacation.

  • sebra leaves

    Let’s just hope they don’t have a BART mishap during that four day closure. Otherwise, everyone might as well go on strike or take a vacation.

  • Gene St Onge

    The Bay Bridge project has much larger problems than a few
    questionable bolts, no matter how critical those connections might be. The
    problems range from the selection of a single tower, unsymmetrical,
    self-anchoring suspension (SAS) bridge in one of the most seismically hazardous
    areas in the world. This type of bridge has been criticized by bridge experts
    worldwide for this particular application, which is unprecedented. Furthermore,
    the seismic force level for which the bridge is designed is too low to reassure
    the public that any new bridge, regardless of design, would be able to
    withstand a major earthquake on either the San Andreas or Hayward Fault and
    remain in service as a critical lifeline in the aftermath of a major
    earthquake, the standard mandated for this particular structure. Finally, of
    course, we have the questionable connectors, the keys to holding the structure
    together when the demands on them are maximized during a major quake. All of
    these problems can be traced to the fact, already reported a number of times
    over the past 15 years, that the ‘experts’ entrusted with the design,
    construction and peer review of the new bridge are the same entities that have profited
    handsomely – some would say obscenely – from the project from the beginning.
    There is, unfortunately, some question as well regarding these main players’
    competency – based on very limited, if any, specific experience – in designing
    a major steel bridge structure such as this. At this point, we need to take
    this opportunity, afforded us by the ‘fortuitous’ failure of some of these main
    connectors, to assign a truly independent (i.e. no financial nor political ties
    to CALTRANS) and expert (i.e. appropriate knowledge and experience with large
    steel bridge structures in seismically hazardous zones) body to investigate
    this project, starting from design through construction. We’ve already waited
    this long (24 years) for the new bridge, we can certainly wait longer to
    finally put aside any doubt that, for the enormous cost of $6.4 billion, we
    will at least get a seismically safe structure. – Gene St.Onge, PE

  • Gene St Onge

    The Bay Bridge project has much larger problems than a few
    questionable bolts, no matter how critical those connections might be. The
    problems range from the selection of a single tower, unsymmetrical,
    self-anchoring suspension (SAS) bridge in one of the most seismically hazardous
    areas in the world. This type of bridge has been criticized by bridge experts
    worldwide for this particular application, which is unprecedented. Furthermore,
    the seismic force level for which the bridge is designed is too low to reassure
    the public that any new bridge, regardless of design, would be able to
    withstand a major earthquake on either the San Andreas or Hayward Fault and
    remain in service as a critical lifeline in the aftermath of a major
    earthquake, the standard mandated for this particular structure. Finally, of
    course, we have the questionable connectors, the keys to holding the structure
    together when the demands on them are maximized during a major quake. All of
    these problems can be traced to the fact, already reported a number of times
    over the past 15 years, that the ‘experts’ entrusted with the design,
    construction and peer review of the new bridge are the same entities that have profited
    handsomely – some would say obscenely – from the project from the beginning.
    There is, unfortunately, some question as well regarding these main players’
    competency – based on very limited, if any, specific experience – in designing
    a major steel bridge structure such as this. At this point, we need to take
    this opportunity, afforded us by the ‘fortuitous’ failure of some of these main
    connectors, to assign a truly independent (i.e. no financial nor political ties
    to CALTRANS) and expert (i.e. appropriate knowledge and experience with large
    steel bridge structures in seismically hazardous zones) body to investigate
    this project, starting from design through construction. We’ve already waited
    this long (24 years) for the new bridge, we can certainly wait longer to
    finally put aside any doubt that, for the enormous cost of $6.4 billion, we
    will at least get a seismically safe structure. – Gene St.Onge, PE

  • Packy Lex

    Hey quit buying Chinese and Texas steel its garbage. They don’t temper it like they used to. That’s what you get with uneducated RAT labor

  • Packy Lex

    Hey quit buying Chinese and Texas steel its garbage. They don’t temper it like they used to. That’s what you get with uneducated RAT labor