Troubled Bridge of Beauty

It’s been five years now since I blogged about the Bay Bridge, which was being rebuilt in the wake of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. (I was in San Francisco when that happened. A slab of the roadway collapsed. Lives were lost.  The bridge was patched together and re-opened, but everyone wanted a new one.)

The new span is beautiful. Here’s a picture I took on a seaplane ride: the new bridge with its single sail-like mast, and the old bridge in the process of being dismantled. People wanted it left as a trail and a garden, sort of like New York’s High Line, but apparently it would be too expensive to maintain.

New Bay Bridge and Old

They kept the old Bridge open while they worked on the new one. This introduced an unaccustomed S-bend into the road, and that took a life too, before they added rumble-strips and warnings and forced a slowing of traffic.

The Bridge was completed without, thankfully, any further accidents. But not without problems.

  • Allegations of poor welds. Some welders claimed they’d been rushed and encouraged to cover over poor work. Caltrans investigated and found the welds at or above specs.
  • Foundation problems. The Sacramento Bee alleged that some of the foundation work was defective. Caltrans made a one-hour video rebuttal, and tried for a retraction of the article.  It didn’t happen. Instead, the newspaper came out with another article, again talking of defective welds.
  • Bolt failures. Some of the bolts connecting the road bed to the bridge have cracked, and many more appear vulnerable.

Now someone is talking about a criminal investigation.

Bay Bridge 2009
New Bay Bridge under construction, 2009