Bridge debacle foreshadows bullet train mega-debacle

by CalWatchdog Staff | May 22, 2013 6:15 am

Brooklyn-BridgeMay 22, 2013

By Chris Reed

Mankind has been building bridges for more than 3,000 years. A bridge built in the 13th century BC in Greece is still in use[1].

Building durable bridges over water is not a modern accomplishment. The Roman Empire liked to build simple arch bridges[2] over rivers and put up hundreds and hundreds all over Europe. Quite a few are still in use.

But building more complex bridges over water, such as the suspension Brooklyn Bridge completed in 1883, is also old hat. It’s not rocket engineering, as Sergio Garcia would say. It’s daunting to outsiders but no big deal to those in the biz.

Except if you’re the genius engineers working for the state of California, who somehow managed to botch the $6.4 billion east span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge by neglecting basic practices meant to reduce water corrosion on giant steel beams and by tolerating flawed welds and an abnormally high number of broken bolts.

Let’s probe and probe and probe some more

State lawmakers increasingly sound like they’re in a let-the-heads-roll mood over the fiasco, the Sacramento Bee reports[3]:

“Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, a member of the transportation committee and an engineer, said the opening date must be delayed if safety remained in doubt. …┬áCannella and state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, chair of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee, called for a comprehensive investigation . …

“He said that the state attorney general, federal officials, or his own committee should conduct the probe. It should require California Department of Transportation executives to testify under oath and compel them to produce internal documents that show who made decisions that led to the current problems, who dissented in those decisions and why, DeSaulnier said.

“‘With the level of personal exposure right now (for Caltrans officials) … there is always the concern that there is documentation that gets lost or destroyed,’ he said.”

State can’t do simple project — but it can pull off an unprecedented one?

train_wreck_num_2So the state government botches an engineering project as rudimentary as a bridge, and now we’re supposed to believe it is up to the challenge of building a bullet train system that costs $68 billion, more than 10 times as costly and a thousand times more difficult?

Sheesh. Why don’t we wait until the winter and just the burn the money in alleys where homeless people sleep? At least it will keep them warm and achieve something constructive.

If you think the state can rise to the occasion, perhaps it’s time you changed or increased your medication. Or maybe you just missed the story about the incredible complexity[4] of the bullet train project.

Or the story about how the geniuses running the California High-Speed Rail Authority quietly rewrote the bidding rules to favor the least competent bidder[5] for construction of the initial 29-mile segment in the Central Valley.

Yeah, that makes sense: Give the toughest project to the bidders with the least expertise. Sheesh again.

Look on the bright side: Watching debacle unfold will be fun

I’m beginning to reach the tipping point on the bullet train. Rationally, of course, I don’t want it to go forward. It’s going to be such a waste of money that could be spent much better elsewhere (or returned to taxpayers). But both ideologically and on schadenfreude grounds, I now am very open to the idea that it will be great fun for critics to watch the bullet train proceed and be the mega-debacle it’s very likely to be.

It will once again remind voters how inefficient and incompetent government is, especially on ambitious projects. But even more satisifying will be how the fiasco will hang like a permanent shadow over the reputations of Jerry Brown, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Karen Bass, John Perez, Darrell Steinberg, Dan Richard and the editorial boards of the Los Angeles Times, the Sacramento Bee, the San Jose Mercury-News and the San Francisco Chronicle. On the bullet train, they’re chumps one and all.

  1. still in use:
  2. arch bridges:
  3. Sacramento Bee reports:
  4. incredible complexity:
  5. least competent bidder:

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