The immediate price tag just to investigate the extent of the troubles with the seemingly cursed eastern span of the Bay Bridge will be $4 million, as the Chron reports. That's how much the three-member bridge oversight panel voted yesterday to spend looking into the apparent seepage of saltwater into the foundation of the span's tower, and into removing the possibly damaged steel rod in that tower base that failed an integrity test last week, as well as further studies and corrosion tests. And yes, this bridge is starting to look like a problem without end that we will all be paying for for many years to come.
Steve Heminger, frequent spokesman for the project and the chairman the panel as executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, has already referred to this whole debacle as "the project from hell."
The panel had already approved $1 million on testing two steel rods that were already removed, and they OK'd a million more to remove the rod that was found last week. $440,000 was approved for the saltwater intrusion testing, and then there's another $1.5 million that's been put toward "further studies" and the convening of new experts.
To sum up the problems: The contractor, who by the way walked away with almost $50 million in bonuses for finishing the project on time, appears to have made some significant errors in the construction of the bridge, both here at the tower base, and at the end of the bridge deck where the suspension cables attach to the deck. The latter problem, which had to do with the type of steel that was used to fabricate a series of bolts/rods that secured the cables, was solved at a price tag of $45 million with a retrofitted "saddle" that was installed in December 2013. The new problems sound far bigger and more expensive, and involve the integrity of bolts that are down closer to the water's surface, anchoring the entire structure. The design encased each bolt in a steel sleeve that was meant to shield it from salt water exposure, but water has been found intruding various parts of the tower foundation, and the culprit for this has not yet been determined.
Additionally, last year, we were hearing of other leaks and pools of water that were found below the roadway. And, as the Chron adds in this helpful graphic, there are some deck joints at the Yerba Buena Island end of the deck that were not welded to code, and the span's chief designer already called these out back in 2011 as potentially vulnerable to earthquake damage.
But any or all of these problems could spell disaster in the event of a quake, which was exactly what this new span was supposed to be saving us from the old, non-suspension span, as some may recall, experienced a partial roadway collapse during the Loma Prieta quake, and was not likely to survive another earthquake. But, as of now, bridge authorities are saying the bridge is perfectly earthquake safe, and all they are doing is preventing against future corrosion and steel failure.
The point is that while there have been signs of steel corrosion due to salt water, three or four years (since the tower first went in) is not enough time for serious corrosion to have taken place. Or so they say.
There are 423 steel rods securing that tower base, and they will now likely all need to be tested. Money for all of this testing and fixing will come out of toll dollars. This bridge, by the way, cost $6.4 billion.