Another View: Bridge to open under cloud of incompetence

August 19, 2013 

Excerpted from Thursday's San Jose Mercury News

So the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge will open in September after all. In the end, it was not a matter of when the new span was completed but when it would be safer than the death trap it replaces.

Nearly 24 years after the Loma Prieta earthquake, the $6 billion bridge is better than what we've got. Talk about a low bar.

There will be no big party, but again for the wrong reason — not to save public money, but for lack of time to plan a bash.

This project has been a fiasco, from the years of haggling over design to the scramble to repair massively expensive and totally avoidable mistakes.

Heads should roll at Caltrans, but they probably won't. Gov. Jerry Brown seems to think these were the kinds of things that just happen, although he said it more colorfully.

Actually, things like this happen when an insular bureaucracy ignores expert advice on how to build a structure in a way that's never been tried before.

Caltrans' well-known shortcomings were magnified, while its director, Malcolm Dougherty, either evaded questions about problems or gave contradictory answers.

Now temporary shims will make up for the earthquake strength lost when critical rods broke during construction. The permanent fix is months away.

And it appears that faulty metals selection will require extra monitoring and maintenance over the life of the span.

Meanwhile, outside experts' questions about steel tendons critical to the roadway structure have been dismissed by Caltrans, which has even ignored Metropolitan Transportation Commissioners' inquiries.

Evidently we're just supposed to trust Caltrans. And we know how that's working out for us.

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