The builder of the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge now blames Caltrans for high profile troubles that have dogged the project since 2013 and claims the agency owes it $40 million as a result of bungling, NBC Bay Area News has learned.
In a complaint lodged to the state Office of Arbitrative Hearings filed Monday, American Bridge/Fluor, the joint venture contractor that constructed the suspension bridge, says Caltrans owes it $40.7 million for various problems of its own making.
The war over costs comes as the bridge project is running $100 million in the red for various costs related to everything from the railing on the still to be completed bike path to shoring up an unstable hillside on Yerba Buena Island.
The self-anchored part of the project was slated to cost $1.43 billion back in 2006, but after a string of changes and overruns, the final cost is close to $2 billion. The entire project is put at more than $6.4 billion.
One of the major issues now in dispute is over responsibility for dozens of high-strength steel rods that broke in 2013 – a debacle that ended up costing close to $50 million to fix.
American Bridge has been told it owes $8 million back for the problem, as has Caltrans and the chief design firm on the project, T.Y. Lin International. Caltrans is refusing to pay, and T.Y. Lin’s $8 million remains uncollected.
But, according to the complaint, Caltrans was to blame for the problem all along. Specifically, American Bridge/Fluor accuses the state agency of blundering by disregarding the risk of using high-strength, galvanized rods for various parts of the project. Such rods, experts say, are notorious for snapping after an electrochemical reaction that caused them to absorb hydrogen normally trapped in water.
The rods failed after stewing in rainwater for several years. Caltrans allegedly knew about “internal documents existing prior to and during the contract” that “questioned and recommended against” using the grade of rods used on the project, the complaint asserts. Caltrans chose to use the rods without alerting the contractor about the issues, according to the claim.
As a result, Caltrans has been “claiming improperly” that American Bridge/Fluor was to blame and owed $8 million “with respect to its defective specifications.”
American Bridge separately is challenging the finding that it failed to properly seal rods at the base of the tower of the bridge with grout. More than a hundred of the sleeves at issue later became flooded when rainwater got in and later when bay water infiltrated the foundation.
The claim says it was Caltrans’ decisions during construction that led to the problem with the grout. Rather than weld the sleeves to keep water from getting in, the complaint alleges, the state allowed an earlier contractor to use plumbers putty and even duct tape. The agency even allowed the sleeves to have holes that would allow water in and let the grout escape, according to the complaint.
“American Bridge installed the grout as specified in the contract and then sealed” around the rods “per the contract.”
After the disputes emerged, Caltrans circumvented the contractual process that would allow a three-member independent panel to resolve differences, repeatedly canceling meetings and refusing to pay for the panel to do its business.
The lawyer who signed the complaint, Robert Leslie, declined to comment.
Caltrans issued a statement to NBC Bay Area late Wednesday, saying that the complaint “only contains the facts and legal theories that support the plaintiffs’ allegations against Caltrans,” and leaves out Caltrans’ defenses and counterclaims. “The facts and theories will be presented throughout the administrative process and arbitration.”