Members of the peer review panel who had already given the thumbs up for the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge to open despite some cracked bolts took bridge officials by surprise at a meeting yesterday when they insisted publicly that the bridge should still open on time, despite Monday's decision to hold off until December. The head of the panel, Frieder Seible, said that a temporary fix before the permanent "saddle" solution could be installed was preferable to continued use of the old span when an earthquake could strike any day. "I don't want to wait any longer than necessary," he said.
When news came out Monday that the opening of the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge was being delayed, it seemed a little odd given that officials had stated earlier that the final decision would not come until the July 10 meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in Oakland. That meeting happened, and Seible and fellow peer review panel member John Fisher used the opportunity to illustrate this temporary bracing that could be put in place within a month, to the apparent shock of some CalTrans and MTC officials.
MTC member Steve Heminger said he was "unware of [the] existence" of such a solution, and other board members seemed like they might be swayed to the idea, as ABC7 reports. Malcolm Dougherty, president of CalTrans, said, "We should absolutely consider [the temporary fix] as an opportunity to open up the bridge at its earliest possible time to insure the safety of the motoring public."
Seible is the former dean of UC San Diego's engineering school, and Fisher is a professor emeritus of civil engineering at Lehigh University. The lone dissenter in last month's decision to reopen on time was UC Davis professor emeritus Izzat M. Idriss, a geotechnical engineer who served on the governor's board of inquiry following the Loma Prieta quake that ultimately recommended every bridge in the state be examined and, if necessary, retrofitted for earthquake safety. Idriss has not been quoted in connection with bridge news.
Several local media outlets have also turned to UC Berkeley metallurgist and materials science professor Tom Devine for quotes, and he's been quite loud in his distrust of CalTrans and this whole situation, going so far as to suggest that Seible and Fisher had been swayed in their decisions by politicians. Back in June he noted, "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 question remains whether the conservative choice is to keep people on the shaky old span three months longer, or to put them sooner on a bridge that may be safer in an earthquake, but actually still needs to be fully earthquake-proofed.