Government incompetence behind Bay Bridge fiasco

by CalWatchdog Staff | July 9, 2013 11:00 am

July 9, 2013

By Chris Reed

Brooklyn-BridgeThe latest revelations[1] about the Bay Bridge’s construction shortcomings point straight to incompetence as the big issue. This is from the Mercury-News:

“OAKLAND — When very large, high-strength steel rods on the new Bay Bridge snapped in early spring, worried commuters suddenly saw bolts everywhere and wondered why some hold and others fail.

“And rightfully so. Steel fasteners clamp together everything from office furniture to spaceships, and questions about their strength are natural.

“Metallurgists have been studying the same thing for more than 50 years.

“But as the broken bolts on the Bay Bridge demonstrate, not every industry pays the same level of attention to the answers.

“Where weight-conscious aerospace and auto designers write highly customized specifications for critical components that absolutely cannot fail, bridge engineers often bulk up on parts and rely on safety in numbers.

“As a result, Bay Bridge designers used ‘off-the-shelf’ industry standards for the bolts — including 32 that later snapped — which is the equivalent of ‘going down to Home Depot,’ said Detroit auto materials engineer Cory Padfield, who is writing a textbook for the American Society for Metals that will feature the busted Bay Bridge bolts as a case study.”

I don’t buy the Merc-News story’s assumption that this is a problem of the bridge-building “industry.” If so, why does the Bay Bridge debacle seem so unusual? If that premise were true, these stories would be common.

Instead, it’s simpler and more accurate to see this as a huge project that’s gone bad because of incompetence — state government incompetence.

Anyone who contemplates this debacle and doesn’t worry about its implications for the bullet train is daft. As I wrote two months ago …

“So 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[2] 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[3] 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.”

  1. latest revelations:
  2. incredible complexity:
  3. least competent bidder:

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