Two out of three experts from a peer-review panel say the new East span of the Bay Bridge should have no problem opening up right on schedule on Labor Day and that the headline-grabbing problem with the brittle bolts is "minuscule compared to the overall seismic safety of the new bridge." But what about the third guy? What's his hangup?
The Toll Bridge Safety Peer Review committee was created in 1997 to ensure all of California's bridges were prepared for The Big One. The current members are Frieder Seible, the former dean of UC San Diego's engineering school, John Fisher, an emeritus professor of civil engineer at Lehigh University and geotechnical engineer/UC Davis Professor Emeritus I.M. Idriss. Seible and Fisher got together to make the announcement during an interview late last week.
According to Fisher, there should be no problem opening the bridge even if Caltrans doesn't have time to replace all the brittle bolts. Although there is still more testing to be done, and Fisher has said in the past that the the bolts do need to be replaced, her and his colleague are ready to give the agency the go-ahead to start putting traffic on the bridge. Per the Contra Costa Times:
The bridge relies on the broken bolts only during an earthquake, [Seible and Fisher] said, and even if seismic repairs are incomplete Sept. 3, the new span is far and above the safest option for the 280,000 vehicles that will cross the bridge daily.
Which doesn't exactly make you feel good about crossing the old span for the next three months.
The third panelist was apparently unavailable to speak with reporters, but at least one other expert is worried the panel may have been swayed by the politicians: "I have zero confidence in any materials-related decisions as a result of what I've been looking at in the past six weeks," UC Berkeley metallurgist and materials science professor Tom Devine told the CoCo Times. "Most of the people telling me, 'Relax, it's fine!' are the same people who were part and parcel of the decisions that caused these problems."
The final decision on whether to open the bridge on Labor Day as planned, has been put off until July 10th.