Monday's news release was matter-of-fact, as if these little inconveniences bubble up all the time: "The Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee announced today that the previously scheduled Labor Day opening of the new East Span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge has been postponed." It conveyed all the urgency of a rain delay for a Giants game.
The release went on to say that some complications were caused by pesky bolts that kept breaking when tightened and that "steel saddle retrofits" needed to correct the problem would take an extra 90 days or so to install. You know, if anybody is interested.
So, just a slight change in plans for the biggest, costliest infrastructure project in California history and the thump-our-chests, pound-our-backs, gala ribbon-cutting set for Labor Day.
Check your day planner. Are you free in mid-December?
Once upon a time, several governors ago, this bridge was going to be completed by 2003, and it was going to cost $1.1 billion. Honest, that's not a joke.
Just add 10 years and $5.3 billion to that, and you can see how narrowly the target goals were missed. So, really, what's another couple of months? This is the perfect ending for a perfect project, if by perfect you mean pie-in-the-face embarrassment.
My favorite, understated quote explaining the retrofit delay, as reported by NBC Bay Area, came from Executive Director Steve Heminger of the Bay Area Toll Authority: "You might look at it as our belt broke, and we are putting on suspenders."
That helps a lot. It explains why their pants are around their ankles.
Not so long ago, taxpayers were railing about the toll authority's plan to spend $5.6 million on an opening-day Bay Bridge celebration. Festivities included a race for bicyclists, reserved crossing times for walkers and fireworks exploding over the Bay. Partygoers' arrivals and departures were to be coordinated with ever-reliable BART trains (unless, of course, workers happen to be on strike that day).
No one's railing about the expensive celebration now. That seems like a drop in the rain barrel compared to the $20 million it's expected to cost to remedy the broken-bolt fiasco.
On the bright side, this entire ordeal will some day make for an excellent question on the TV game show "Jeopardy":
Contestant: "I'll take Bridge Blunders for $20 million, Alex."
Alex Trebek: "The construction oversight on this project was so laughably inept that the bridge had to be retrofitted before it was even completed."
Criticism at this point may seem like piling on, although my neighbor will disagree. ("What a mess," he said, shaking his head.) The perplexing part is trying to determine who most deserves to be at the bottom of the pile: Politicians? Contractors? Engineers?
For the latest snafu, the Toll Bridge Oversight Committee began with Caltrans and then moved on to anyone who could be linked to the damnable bolts. Corrosion protection treatments were flawed. Engineering specifications were inadequate. Communication between designers was missing. Quality assurance was lax.
That's one aspect of this project that clearly sets it apart. There have been plenty of bad decisions and lots of glaring mistakes in 15 years, but handing out blame is one thing at which everyone is now an expert.
Contact Tom Barnidge at firstname.lastname@example.org.