Update: Critics charge SF/Oakland Bay Bridge still unsafe

Update: Critics charge SF/Oakland Bay Bridge still unsafe

220px-022srUSGSCyprusViaNew questions have arisen about the subject of several stories I wrote last spring about the construction debacles on the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Bridge repairs. In May, I covered a report of the concerns of engineer Yun Chung.

The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake struck with 6.9 magnitude and shook up much of Northern California, killing 63 people. Of them, 42 died when a chunk of the Cypress Street Viaduct of the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Bridge collapsed.

It took almost 24 years and $6.4 billion, but the span finally reopened in September.

What follows will bring the reader up to date on recent developments.

Reported the Sacramento Bee this week, “Yun Chung, a retired engineer and metallurgist, read the official report explaining why massive, high-strength steel rods on the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge broke last March and was stunned – then alarmed. … He concluded that the analysis defied metallurgical science and common sense.”

Chung, who specialized in high-strength steel analysis for the nuclear power industry, reported that Caltrans only focused on the hydrogen effects during the production process. Chung said some rods could pose long-term risks. “I want Caltrans to have the right understanding of the problem,” he said, “Then they can have the right corrective actions.”

240px-Cypress_structureSupplemental report

Chung then produced a new, supplemental report, “Main Concerns About Anchor Rods on the New Bay Bridge,” issued on Nov. 29. It was written with Lisa K. Thomas, a metals and metallurgical engineer at the Berkeley Research Company, and commissioned by the Bee.

TBPOC is the Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee. The new report says:

“This supplement specifically focuses on the problems unique to the anchor rods for the main cable (also identified as PWS – Parallel Wire Strands) and the tower base. … This supplement is deemed necessary because TBPOC-Caltrans have been oblivious to the metallurgical conditions unique to these anchor rods, which may have HE [hydrogen embrittlement] susceptibility worse than other anchor rods, contrary to TBPOC- Caltrans’ expectations….

“TBPOC-Caltrans believe that their July 8, 2013 report has addressed and resolved all the questions and issues regarding the high strength steel anchor rods on the new Bay Bridge. This is untrue. There are several important questions unanswered and TBPOC-Caltrans are not even aware of some metallurgical problems facing the long term performance integrity of fracture-critical anchor rods.

“The truth is that TBPOC-Caltrans have no idea about the susceptibility of the most fracture-critical anchor rods to hydrogen embrittlement (HE). Their testing protocols including the Townsend KISCC (stress corrosion cracking) tests have completely missed the mark in connection with the validity of their remedial resolutions of the anchor rods for the main cable (Item 7, PWS – Parallel Wire Strands) and of the tower base (Items 12 and 13.3).”

The Bee reported, “Testing will continue through the middle of 2014 at a cost of $4.1 million, plus support costs.” Add the $4.1 million to the $6.4 billion cost to build the bridge … and keep counting.

Chung and Thomas again:

“Caltrans, their contractors, and consultants have all missed this point. FHWA engineers neglected to consider the effects of cold thread rolling on HE failures when they calculated HE susceptibility risks using their own Greg Assessment Tool.”  

Chung and Thomas found several errors in the Caltrans oversight committee’s report, concluding that there were “several signs that Caltrans engineers lack expertise in fracture mechanics based KISCC analyses,” after blindly copying incorrect information from a book by Prof. John Fisher and his co-authors during the May 8, 2013 Bay Bridge Briefing.


Caltrans claims the new span is “quakeproof.” But on August 28, UC Berkeley Alumni magazine reported:

“Cal professor of civil and environmental engineering Abolhassan Astaneh-Asl told us only a few hours before Wednesday night’s closing of the old span that he believed the new span is so deficient in its design and execution that it is much less safe than the old one. It was Astaneh-Asl who led a Cal team that investigated damage to the old Bay Bridge after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and determined that the structure’s foundations were sound.”

Oversight vetoed

State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Contra Costa, formed a special oversight committee and has been conducting hearings about the mismanagement and Bay Bridge construction boondoggles.

DeSaulnier, also chairman of the Transportation and Housing Committee, together with the Legislative Analyst’s Office, tried to form an independent task force to conduct oversight into Caltrans and the Bay Bridge safety issues. They requested legal indemnification through legislation under Senate Bill 110 for a panel of experts to move forward with a review.

“Task force members, however, did not wish to proceed absent being provided immunity, hence SB110, which contains an urgency clause so the task force can commence its work at the earliest possible time,” bill analysis said.

The bill passed through both houses of the Legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown, leaving DeSaulnier and the Transportation Committee to do their own investigation of the Bay Bridge.

“In the coming months, the committee will conduct a thoughtful examination of the problems that caused this project to be 10 years late and $5 billion over budget,” DeSaulnier said following Brown’s veto of SB110. “The toll payers deserve answers. There are many lessons to be learned that can help us make Caltrans management more accountable and improve the outcomes of future mega-projects.”


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  1. eck
    eck 11 December, 2013, 20:18

    Wow, our extreme left governor against another leftist Senator. Seems like an extremely contentious subject. We need independent reviews and comments here, No?

    Reply this comment
  2. Hank
    Hank 12 December, 2013, 10:56

    The new Jerry Moonbeam will morph into Jerry the Builder. His genius is all over the Bay Bridge right from the start. Now that the facts are accumulating and the very real deficiencies are becoming a very real concern, what are the consequences? A short lived, high maintenance and dubious structure at the very best, quite likely far worse. One person has been terminated, for stealing building applies. No one else.
    How well do you suppose Jerry and his departments will do with the upcoming water tunnels, HSR and other dreamy ideas. A complete indifference to knowledge , ability and responsibility. The make believe administration, the real legacy.

    Reply this comment
  3. Rex the Wonderdog!
    Rex the Wonderdog! 13 December, 2013, 07:32

    Doesn’t surprise me, no screw up in Gov does.

    Reply this comment
  4. Hondo
    Hondo 14 December, 2013, 14:32

    The same people who bought you Obamacare are building a bridge. In our new govt. diversity trumps competence. This shows us that toooo much govt simply can’t and won’t make decisions, without a receiving immunity from the consequences of their decisions. Therefore no one is accountable for anything.
    This is the reason I left the Dems. We used to be able to build bridges, dams, hiways that worked and lasted.

    Reply this comment
    • EducatedLiberal
      EducatedLiberal 22 June, 2014, 10:31


      What Right-wing twaddle you spew. Let’s see, the Republican Right-wing imperium has wrought the three worst economic disasters in modern history (1929, 1988, 2008); the failure of defense leading to 9/11; the disaster of Tora Bora; the Right-wing Chicken Hawk’s Quagmire in the Tigris-Euphrates and the Debacle in the Graveyard of Empires, the first of which was launched via a treasonous conspiracy of lies; the abandonment of an American city in the wake of a natural disaster, and the list goes on and on….

      And you have the unmitigated gall, affrontery, and rancid hypocrisy to declaim, and I quote, “in our new govt. diversity trumps competence” (sic). Typical for a Right-winger, you through in your garden-variety, genetic racism as a seasoner for your blazing hypocrisy.

      The facts clearly indicate that there was hardly any “diversity” in the long saga of the Oakland Bay Bridge, that in fact EVERY SINGLE decision,design, error, cover-up,controversy, and general arrogant dimwittery regarding the bridge in question owes to the nearly all-white, male leadership of all parties involved, beginning with Republican governors right down the ole (arrogant) white boy network within Caltrans.

      But we do thank you for advertising your racism.

      Indeed, you colourfully obfuscated the roles that very Republican governors have actively played in the troubles associated with the new Oakland Bay Bridge, not the least of which emanate from outsourcing to China, a very, very Republican ideal of “market place solutions.”

      What’s that, Hondo, you don’t like the sound of that which the world recognizes as inconvenient truth? Let’s summarize for your benefit:

      The “reason why you left the Dems” is that the party reached out to and included nonwhites, women, and Gays. The “reason why” you embrace the Republicans is that your hypocrisy, militant ignorance, and seething racism finds a perfect home in the party of stupid, the militantly ignorant, seething white racist party that has, in fact, directly caused the decline and near collapse of the Republic (see above enumerated facts in this regard). Thanks for proving what lying, hypocritical, racist Right-wingers are. News flash: Your party will collapse long before the Oakland Bay Bridge, whatever its shortcomings.

      Reply this comment
  5. Bill - San Jose
    Bill - San Jose 15 December, 2013, 09:40

    Criminal efforts by yet another criminal regine. I guess don’t ask don’t tell is still okay if it suits the need.

    Reply this comment
  6. alma angela
    alma angela 30 January, 2019, 09:29

    I am interested in writing a guest post for your blog. Are you currently accepting
    guest post.
    Regard’s Angela.For a guest post.

    Reply this comment

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