"When you think of a beer can between two large hands, if you have a small dent in the beer can, it will collapse very easily. It's how we impress a lady in a bar—but it's no way to build a bridge." [Robert. G Bea/SF Chron]
UC Berkeley prof Bob Bea, who the Chron has described as a "student of disaster" and Men's Journal as the far more thrilling "Master of Disaster," says today that defective joints on the new eastern span of Bay Bridge might put it out of business should another major earthquake occur.
As recently as last fall, Caltrans officials were trumpeting the new, $6.4 billion span's seismic soundness, with one Chron report saying that "its graceful looks overshadow its main mission: to not only remain standing after a devastating earthquake but to be able to carry emergency vehicles and supplies across the bay soon after the ground stops shaking."
Six months later, and the news is less glowing, as the Chron reports today that in 2010, the eastern span's designer warned Caltrans "that welds used to hold ill-fitting steel road-deck sections together were vulnerable to damage in a major earthquake."
Experts like Bea concur with this warning, and, even worse, say that Caltrans' acceptance of these welds is indicative of an overall issue with the new span.
"All of these decisions lead to an erosion of your margin of quality, a factor of safety," Bea said.
Brian Maroney, Caltrans' chief engineer on the project, perhaps unsurprisingly disagrees with Bea's doomsday scenario, continuing to assert that the bridge will be just fine in an earthquake, thanks very much.
"We can bend the steel, or yield it - I call that damage. It is damage," Maroney told the Chron. "But will it not allow a truck to go over it? Will it mean a bridge will not perform for the community? No. So I'll accept that."