SACRAMENTO -- Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Mark DeSaulnier will launch in November a legislative probe into why the new Bay Bridge cost so much and took so long to build.

Back in 1998 when Bay Area officials chose the unique self-anchored span design, engineers estimated construction would take four years and cost $1.4 billion; instead, it took 11 years and cost $6.4 billion.

"We are asking the question, 'Why was the bridge so over budget and why did it take so long?'" said DeSaulnier, D-Concord.

The committee is prepared to use its subpoena powers if necessary, DeSaulnier said.

A procession of vehicles carrying dignitaries heads back to the toll plaza after driving across the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge Monday afternoon
A procession of vehicles carrying dignitaries heads back to the toll plaza after driving across the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge Monday afternoon Sept. 2, 2013 in Oakland, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

Over the course of three planned investigatory hearings in the next several months, the answers to those questions will help the senator and the committee draft reform legislation that would help manage projects that could far eclipse the new Bay Bridge's place on the megaproject scale -- the $68 billion high-speed rail plan and $25 billion Delta water diversion tunnel proposal.

The first hearing set for Nov. 13 features megaprojects expert and University of Oxford professor Bent Flyvbjerg via the Internet.

Scheduled to appear in person are Boston's former Big Dig risk manager and Boston University law school lecturer Virginia Jenny Greiman; UC Berkeley civil and engineering professor William Ibbs; and the California High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group Chairman Lou Thompson.


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"We all agree that you cannot eliminate challenge in megaprojects, which, by definition, carry risks," said Transportation and Housing Committee staffer Eric Thronson. "We will ask the experts to talk about the challenges of megaprojects and how we, as a state, can mitigate some of those challenges."

No dates or final agendas have been set for the second and third hearings.

But the second hearing will focus on "lessons learned from the Bay Bridge," Thronson said. "We see the Bay Bridge as the best example of what can go wrong on a megaproject."

To that end, the committee has hired former KTVU investigative producer and journalist Roland De Wolk to write a detailed white paper on the suspension bridge's two decades of woes.

At the third hearing, the committee will turn its attention to management at Caltrans.

Meanwhile, DeSaulnier's other bridge oversight initiative stalled in early October when Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed legislation that would have provided legal protections for experts convened through the Legislative Analyst's Office who were examining questions that arose during construction.

Specifically, the panelists were looking at concrete testing on the main tower marine foundation and mistakes that led to broken high-strength steel bolts in the span's seismic stabilizers.

Caltrans and its independent seismic safety oversight panel concluded the foundation is safe and contractors estimate the bolt fix will be finished by mid-December.

The state owes the Legislative Analyst's Office $8,000 for work it has already done but the unfinished analysis is on hold "until I can find a way to resolve the indemnification issue," DeSaulnier said.

Contact Lisa Vorderbrueggen at 925-945-4773, lvorderbrueggen@bayareanewsgroup.com or Twitter.com/lvorderbrueggen.