On Wednesday, Caltrans will update the Metropolitan Transportation Commission on the cause of the failure of 32 anchor rods designed to connect pier columns and the deck of the new Bay Bridge span for earthquake stability.
With just 4½ months until the scheduled opening, everyone must resist the temptation to rush the analysis and solution. The primary concern cannot be the party deadline; it must be the integrity of the $6.4 billion structure.
That said, it's time for Caltrans to detail and document what it knows so far, what it's doing to find a solution, what the failure might suggest about problems elsewhere on the bridge, and which outside experts have been brought in to ensure the review is accurate and impartial.
In this April 10, 2013 file photo, Caltrans Toll Bridge Program Manager Tony Anziano refers to one of the broken rods he brought from the new Bay Bridge project during a presentation before the Bay Area Toll Authority oversight committee in Oakland, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Staff)
In short, the agency, with a well-deserved reputation as an insular and uncommunicative organization, must come clean.
Caltrans acknowledges that the rods probably failed because they were too fragile due to hydrogen infiltration, a process known as embrittlement. But the transportation department hasn't discussed why that might have happened.
Only through the excellent investigative reporting of journalists Lisa Vorderbrueggen of this newspaper and Jaxon Van Derbeken of the San Francisco Chronicle, using Caltrans documents and outside experts, do we have some sense of what might have gone wrong.
Their articles leave us with a disturbing list of issues Caltrans must address: Documentation: Caltrans previously had concerns about inadequate maintenance of a paper trail by Ohio-based Dyson Corp., the company that manufactured the rods. Then, when the rods were produced, the documentation about their heat-treating was lost. Second heat treatment. Because of the missing paperwork, the rods were heat-treated a second time. That might have made them more susceptible to embrittlement when exposed to hydrogen. Galvanization. The rods were dipped in molten zinc, presumably to protect them from marine air. But the galvanization is reportedly unusual for such high-strength structural steel because it could lock in hydrogen during the process. This issue could have broad implications for the bridge because other parts have also been galvanized. Rods ordered late. Caltrans had concerns that the rod production was rushed because the bridge contractor, American Bridge Fluor, had ordered them too late. As a result, Caltrans inspectors had to simultaneously test and release the parts to meet the construction schedule. Test not performed. Magnetic particle testing might have exposed cracks that made the rods more susceptible to embrittlement. Caltrans directed American Bridge Fluor to perform such testing on other key steel fasteners, including 192 subsequent rods similar to the ones that failed. A Caltrans engineer wanted the test performed on the rods that later failed, but American Bridge resisted. Possible design flaw. The rods sat trapped in rainwater-filled holes for five years before they were tightened and broke. That may have contributed greatly to the embrittlement process.
We recognize that Caltrans is still investigating. We don't expect all the answers this week. But we expect complete candor about what it knows so far.