Bay Bridge

Caltrans report dismisses ongoing Bay Bridge maintenance issues

The California Department of Transportation released today its long-promised assessment of maintenance issues facing the new $6.5 billion San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge – concluding that apart from ongoing tests of anchor rods, no concerns exist.

The list was prepared for the Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee, which supervises construction and spending, and released at its meeting today at Caltrans’ Bay Bridge office.

Committee Chairman Steve Heminger, executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, said the report would be discussed at the Bay Area Toll Authority meeting on May 14 and would be peer-reviewed for accuracy in coming months.

The list excluded any mention of corrosion found in the protected chambers that house the main cable anchorage, detailed in a Sacramento Bee investigation in April.

Asked about that corrosion problem in an interview, Heminger called the Caltrans report “step one.”

“One reason we are going to have peer review is to make sure it’s complete,” he said.

Toll Authority commissioner and San Francisco Supervisor David Campos said outside oversight was crucial, “given the history of this project.”

“As a best practice, we owe it to the public to have an objective and independent review of Caltrans’ findings,” he said.

That review will be conducted by experts from the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, a global organization for owners of toll roads and bridges. Heminger said he expected reviewers to be named at the Toll Authority meeting.

“Nothing stands out as ‘new’ at this point,” wrote Tony Anziano, Caltrans’ top executive for toll bridge seismic projects, in the maintenance memo.

He dismissed some concerns described by independent experts in The Sacramento Bee and other media as non-issues or as manageable through normal maintenance. These included corrosion of tendons in the skyway section of the new bridge, doubts about the foundation of the suspension span tower and evidence of substandard welds in the suspension span roadway girders. The foundation and welding issues are being examined by the California Senate, and the welds are under investigation by the California Highway Patrol.

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Anziano’s report said that fixing hundreds of holes leaking water into the suspension span might involve changes to the barrier rail on the roadway, or simply caulking the holes more effectively. The report noted that water leakage was expected and normal.

Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, chairman of the Transportation and Housing committee, said his committee “will look into the Caltrans report with a good deal of skepticism – because these are the same folks who approved these things in the first place.” DeSaulnier said “credible testimony” from University of California experts and others “has led me to believe that there will be serious costs for maintenance” associated with the welds, corrosion and other problems.

Testing continues on high-strength anchor rods, whose weaknesses became known last year when 32 snapped under tension. A costly retrofit was devised to replace the function of those rods, which secured important seismic devices at the eastern pier of the suspension span. Caltrans tests – projected for completion this summer – will determine if any of thousands of similar rods and bolts must be replaced.

The oversight committee meeting was the first since it decided to open portions of its meetings to the public.