OAKLAND -- Operators of the new east span of the Bay Bridge received some good news Thursday about the structural integrity of metal bridge parts and some potentially bad news about the cost of the project.
There is a chance that the price tag for the demolition of the old eastern span may exhaust the remaining $175 million in reserves set aside for the $6.4 billion bridge project. The demolition costs keep rising, and the final tab is uncertain, Rich Foley, a Caltrans finance expert told a gathering of state and regional bridge operators Thursday.
"The dismantling has a lot of (financial) uncertainty. A lot of people are nervous about it," Foley said. "We're embarking on something we haven't done before. It's not like landscaping."
On the bright side, engineering experts said bridge bolts and rods passed another round of tests that show they will not need to be replaced or given expensive bracing.
While some tests continue, the majority of tests indicate that some 2,300 bolts, rods and metal fasteners installed on the new eastern span are not vulnerable to corrosion like 32 bolts that snapped last year when they were tightened, a team of metallurgists reported.
The latest corrosion tests exposed samples of metal bridge parts to saltwater for weeks under pressure in a lab to simulate exposure to environmental conditions in San Francisco Bay.
The batch of rods that snapped were manufactured at a different time and in a different way than other bridge pieces, and they were exposed to rain for five years, experts said.
Instead of replacing any bolts and rods, Caltrans should protect the pieces against corrosion by painting them with anti-corrosive coating or grease caps. Those measures would have modest costs, Caltrans officials said.
As far as the rising price tag of the bridge project, even if the $6.4 billion budget had to be raised to cover the demolition, it would not trigger a toll increase because the Bay Area Toll Authority has other reserves it could dip into to absorb higher costs, said Steve Heminger, executive director of the Toll Authority, who added that his agency will work hard to keep the project within budget.
The old east span must be taken apart and hauled away piece by piece to comply with modern environmental and safety laws. The demolition cost could be pared down if Caltrans wins approval for a proposal to leave a portion of the old bridge piers in place near the shoreline to provide recreation and public access, Caltrans officials said.