OAKLAND -- The Bay Bridge's broken bolts have busted the schedule, forcing the construction team to postpone for weeks or months the opening of the Bay Area's new signature bridge while critics lambaste the designers and builders for missteps that contributed to the delay.

Citing a longer than expected timetable to retrofit the seismic stabilizers where key anchor rods snapped in March, transportation leaders acknowledged Monday that the span will not open to traffic immediately the morning after Labor Day as planned. No new opening date has been set.

"Heads should roll," said Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord. "It's unconscionable that people have been exposed to so much risk of an earthquake on the old bridge and paid so much for the new one. People need to be held accountable on these big projects."

Bay Area legislators got the bad news Monday morning during a closed-door meeting in Sacramento with the Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee, composed of directors of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, California Transportation Commission and Caltrans.

The oversight committee also released a scathing report detailing a cascade of missteps and errors that triggered the catastrophic failure of the high-strength bolts and a crisis of public confidence in the $6.4 billion span's seismic safety.

The report spreads the blame liberally among Caltrans, bridge consulting engineers of record at T.Y. Lin and Moffatt & Nichol, and bridge contractor American Bridge/Fluor Enterprises.

The panel concluded that Caltrans and the consultants inappropriately dictated that the bolts be manufactured to a single industry standard, without factoring in the unique purposes and heavy loads required of the Bay Bridge fasteners.

The committee also criticized principal suspension span contractor American Bridge/Fluor Enterprises for allowing water to collect around the shear key bolts that later broke.

The foul-ups eventually led to the need for repairs to the seismic stabilizers in the large pier east of the tower where 32 of 96 anchor rods snapped after contractors tightened them down.

Those repairs won't be done until Dec. 10 at an estimated cost of up to $20 million.

To fix the problem and handle the heavy loads originally intended for the steel rods, engineers have designed an exterior saddle and cable system. A saddle will be affixed to the top of the shear key with cables stretched over it and anchored on the outside of the shear key. Then the entire assembly will be encased in concrete.

Other fasteners on the bridge have not shown signs of imminent fracture after subsequent testing, though some may need to be replaced in coming years.

A new date for opening the span will likely be the topic of considerable debate Wednesday, when the oversight committee appears before the Bay Area Toll Authority, the board of county and city elected officials who oversee toll funds.

The committee will "select a bridge opening date based upon actual completion of the east pier retrofit work, weather windows, traffic impacts and other information as it becomes available," according to a published statement.

The switch to the new span requires a four-day shutdown of the old bridge, and Caltrans initially chose Labor Day weekend because traffic volumes are lower.

If the span isn't opened until after the repairs are complete on Dec. 10, that puts the possible timetable for opening into the Christmas season, when the number of commuters on the bridge also declines.

But the shift also means potentially poor construction weather for paving, pouring concrete and lane striping.

Commuters asked Monday about the prospect of more delay expressed disappointment, but many preferred safety over speed.

"Safety first," said Dupriest Hill, who works in Oakland. "I think we should get it right. I would hate for a travesty to happen, like a failure of the bridge."

Some experts continue to argue to open the new span as soon as possible.

Waiting for the shear key retrofit is unnecessary, said Frieder Seible, chairman of the Toll Bridge Program Seismic Safety Peer Review Panel.

"The likelihood that a big earthquake will come between now and the time that the bolts are fixed is a very small exposure window when compared to the 150-year life span of the bridge," Seible said. "It is a risk worth taking compared to keeping traffic on the old bridge."

The opening day dilemma is the latest nail-biter in a suspense story that began 24 years ago. That's when the Loma Prieta earthquake shook loose a 250-ton piece of the Bay Bridge's upper deck and killed a motorist, one of 63 people who lost their lives in the shaker.

The replacement span is packed with seismic and construction innovations, many of them unprecedented at this scope and size and tested only in laboratories.

"The evidence is convincing that the new bridge is many, many times safer than the proven vulnerable old bridge," said Metropolitan Transportation Commission spokesman Randy Rentschler. "So, I don't have any doubt that we take the earlier opportunity we can to get traffic onto the new span. It is a function of the time it will take to get the retrofit done."

Staff writer Brittny Mejia contributed to this story. Contact Lisa Vorderbrueggen at 925-945-4773, lvorderbrueggen@bayareanewsgroup.com, politicswithlisav.blogspot.com or Twitter.com/lvorderbrueggen.

bay bridge MEETING
  • Details of the delayed opening of the new Bay Bridge will be hashed out at the Bay Area Toll Authority meeting on July 10, 10 a.m. at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission offices at 101 Eighth St., First floor, in Oakland.
  • Can't attend? Go to www.mtc.ca.gov and listen to a live audio feed of the meeting.
  • Read the full report plus appendices on the 2,306 galvanized high-strength steel bolts on the Bay Bridge -- including the 2008 batch that snapped in March -- at www.mtc.ca.gov/projects/bay_bridge/A354.htm.

    bay bridge: blame
    The Toll Bridge Oversight Committee issued nine critical findings into the missteps that led to the broken high-strength steel bolts in seismic stabilizers in the new Bay Bridge. The panel spread the blame broadly among Caltrans, the project's consulting engineers of record at T.Y. Linn and Moffatt & Nichol and contractor American Bridge/Fluor Enterprises:
  • Inadequate consideration of alternative high-strength materials or corrosion protection treatments.
  • Applied generic industry standards to fasteners intended for highly specialized purposes and under very heavy loads.
  • Failed to test the large diameter rods for hydrogen embrittlement -- the cause of the bolts' failure -- as required under industry standards.
  • Insufficient communication between the designers who selected the steel for the fasteners and the engineers who wrote the specifications put out to bidders.
  • Poor record-keeping, including missing quality assurance documentation for steel rods used in the tower foundation.
    Source: Toll Bridge Oversight Committee report on Bay Bridge high-strength steel rods


    BAY BRIDGE: QUOTES
  • Matthew Thompson, works in San Francisco and normally uses BART: "My feeling is they should have got the bolts right in the first place, so it's really inexcusable. But it is what it is, and since we have to wait, I just assume they will get it right."
  • Teo Flynn, 17, attends Peralta College: "Obviously it's a big inconvenience for people who do have to commute but safety is the number one concern because if the bridge were to collapse or if something were to happen, people's lives are at stake."
  • Fran Fabien, owns a business in Oakland: "Right now I'm comfortable with the old span. It's kind of scary with the new one, with the bolts and so forth. But hopefully that will ease if they take their time and open in December."
  • Dupriest Hill, works in Oakland: "Safety first. I think we should get it right, I would hate for a travesty to happen, like a failure of the bridge."
  • Michael Hutchings, works in Oakland: "I think it's better to wait so that it's safe. As long as they get rid of that S-curve, I think it'll be fine."
    -- Brittny Mejia