While the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge has been open for more than three months, questions surrounding its structural integrity remain unresolved.
The span is considered safer than the one it replaced, but that's a low bar that doesn't negate the need for independent experts to address serious concerns of outside professionals. That point was reinforced by the disconcerting, peer-reviewed findings last month of two East Bay metallurgists, Yun Chung, a retired Bechtel engineer, and Lisa Thomas of Berkeley Research Co.
It was Chung who last spring sharply criticized bridge officials' analysis of the infamous rod failures. At issue were 32 critical connectors that snapped when tension was applied.
Transportation officials later acknowledged that the choice of metal and the coating for the rods didn't account for high-tension use in a corrosive environment. Required testing was not performed. And critical records were lost.
Yet, determined to open the bridge by Labor Day, bridge officials figured a workaround while promising to perform more critical testing later. As cars started crossing the span, Chung and Thomas reviewed the official report on the rod failure.
Their sobering conclusion: Caltrans and the bridge oversight committee still "have no idea" about the susceptibility of the most critical rods to future corrosion. Their testing protocols "have completely missed the mark."
As first reported by the Sacramento Bee, Chung and Thomas conclude that bridge officials incorrectly blamed the corrosion that caused the rod failures on the production process rather than water in which they sat for five years. They criticize a lack of data about the rod threads, potentially the weakest links in the critical connectors. And serious issues remain about rods connecting the tower to its foundation.
Chung and Thomas had other engineers review their work, including Patrick Pizzo, professor emeritus in materials engineering at San Jose State, and Robert Bea, professor emeritus in civil and environmental engineering at UC Berkeley.
With such troubling findings, bridge officials from Caltrans, the California Transportation Commission and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission should take notice.
Instead, Caltrans, the lead agency on the technical analysis, has yet to even provide Chung the courtesy of a meeting with its engineers. The insular agency's unprofessional behavior is appalling.
It's time for the state Legislature to step in, to hire outside experts to independently evaluate these concerns. With so much at stake, public safety must trump bureaucratic egos.