SACRAMENTO -- State Senate transportation leaders on Tuesday called for an independent review of the seismic safety of the massive underwater foundation beneath the tower of the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge.
During a three-hour hearing to address questions raised in news stories about a rogue state inspector's falsified concrete testing data on Bay Area bridges, Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, and member Sen. Joe Simitian, D-San Jose, agreed a third-party analysis is necessary.
It's too late to appease the worried public with assurances from the same people who are building the $6.4 billion span, the lawmakers said.
"You have to take the time and hand this off to a third party," Simitian told Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty. "Hustling to finish the bridge with a cloud of suspicion over the project doesn't serve you well .... Sometimes you have to go slow before you can go fast."
"We have to make sure that we have the confidence of the driving public that this is the bridge we envisioned in terms of public safety," DeSaulnier said.
The committee will work with the Legislative Analysts Office to devise an independent review process along with other possible oversight requirements. The package would come back before the committee in the fall. With few details, it's unclear how much a review will cost although the toll-payers will mostly likely foot the bill.
As he has for months, Dougherty continued to reject any assertions of safety concerns and reminded lawmakers of the extensive peer review already conducted on the bridge.
He had plenty of company.
The top two engineers in the state's toll bridge program, a Federal Highway Administration executive and a renowned international bridge engineer who leads California's seismic safety panel all reiterated what the agency has been officially saying for months: The Bay Bridge is safe.
The result of a federal and state review of all tests conducted by the former inspector will be finished this fall but Dougherty said they have found no evidence that this employee's work on the Bay Bridge is suspect.
All concrete strength tests on the foundations' 13 pilings met state specifications and even if the 19-foot segment in question is faulty, the bridge was designed to contains major redundancies that more than compensate for any deficiencies, Dougherty added.
Veteran Caltrans chief bridge engineer Brian Maroney even brought show-and-tell items for the committee:
"I can assure you there is not a single structure where more analysis, more testing or more independent review has been done than on the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge," said Frieder Seible, dean of the engineering school at the University of California at San Diego, chairman of the Caltrans' Seismic Advisory Board and designer of dozens of bridges around the world. "This is where I derive my comfort in saying the bridge is seismically safe."
Seible urged the state to avoid undertaking any third-party review that would delay the eastern span's scheduled Labor Day 2013 opening, noting that the existing 1936 bridge is a known seismic hazard.
"An earthquake waits for no one," Seible said."
Contact Lisa Vorderbrueggen at 925-945-4773, Twitter @lvorderbrueggen or www.facebook.com/lvorderbrueggen.
Nov. 12, 1936: San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge opens to traffic.
Oct. 17, 1989: Loma Prieta earthquake sheers bolts on a portion of the upper deck, causing a 50-foot, 250-ton section of the upper deck to collapse. One motorist dies.
September 1996: Estimates put the cost of a new eastern span at a range of $902 million to $1.4 billion depending on design.
2001: Construction cost estimates soar to $3.04 billion.
2004: The price tag jumps again -- to $5.1 billion -- when the global steel market tightens.
July 2005: In an attempt to staunch cost overruns, Legislature creates the three-pronged Toll Bridge Project Oversight Committee, comprised of Caltrans, Metropolitan Transportation Commission (acting as the Bay Area Toll Authority) and the California Transportation Commission.
2005 through June 2012: Costs continue to escalate but at a lesser rate, rising from $5.4 billion in October 2005 to $6.41 billion as of June.
Labor Day, 2013: Estimated completion date.
Source: BANG research