SAN FRANCISCO
05/13/2013 06:53 pm ET

Bay Bridge Bolts: Problems With Iconic Span's Construction Extend To Structure's Base

Alamy

The problems with the newly constructed eastern span of the Bay Bridge may, quite literally, go deeper than previously thought.

In an investigation released over the weekend, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the bridge's iconic tower is anchored by some 400 steel bolts that may be at risk of cracking. The bolts were reportedly galvanized using a now-banned procedure.

"The problem is going to be that, over a long time, you start to see some cracks," Russell Kane, a Texas-based expert on metal embrittlement explained to the Chronicle. "[In an earthquake] you are going to have some of those pre-existing cracks that are going to grow like crazy. If you have cracks in them, all bets are off...the thing could be swaying in the wind very quickly."

The galvanization process used in the rods' creation reportedly made them are too hard, which could lead to hydrogen seeping inside and causing cracks. In the years between when the project was first approved and when the bolts were installed, Caltrans banned the galvanization procedure for parts used in bridge construction; however, the bolts still made it into the bridge.

Some Caltrans officials began raising concerns about the bolts, which are primarily used to ensure the bridge retains its structural soundness in the event of an earthquake, as far back at 2001.

While over 2,300 such bolts have already been placed throughout the bridge, the ones in the base may prove especially problematic because, due to their location at the bottom of the tower, they are significantly more difficult to examine for soundness than those used elsewhere in the $6.4 billion structure.

Even many of the bolts elsewhere in the bridge are likely in there for the long haul due to their inaccessible location between the deck of the bridge and the concrete columns holding up said deck. Caltrans has proposed a $10 million fix, which involves installing a "saddle" to bear the load that the rods were otherwise expected to hold.

Issues with the bolts first came to light earlier this year when Caltrans workers discovered one-third of the approximately 90 bolts had snapped after being tightened.

Despite the setbacks, officials remain optimistic that the bridge will still open on schedule. "We believe the work can get done by Labor Day, but it will require extra shifts and perhaps a 24-hour-a-day operation and that will cost more money," Steve Heminger, executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, explained to the Los Angles Times earlier this month.

Although a more thorough analysis, scheduled for later this month, may ultimately push push back that opening date.

Or, as Governor Jerry Brown aptly put it at a press conference last week, "I mean, look, sh*t happens."

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