Members of the state Senate transportation committee asked tough questions Tuesday of Caltrans and Metropolitan Transportation Committee officials about faulty anchor bolts on the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge.
State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, who heads the committee, said he wants to know why transportation officials deviated from standard specifications for the bolts that were made for the span.
The MTC and the California Department of Transportation learned in March that about a third of the 96 bolts installed on a pier just east of Yerba Buena Island had failed. The bolts, also called anchor rods, are located near where the new span's self-anchored suspension span meets its skyway.
Manufactured in Ohio in 2008, they popped out several inches after they were tightened. Transportation officials are conducting tests to determine whether another batch of 192 bolts that were manufactured in 2010 will also need to be replaced.
Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty told the committee at its hearing in Sacramento that the decision on the standards for the bolts on the new eastern span was made in 2002. Dougherty said, "We used the industry standards that were in place at the time" and up to that time "we'd had positive experiences in using these bolts."
However, Dougherty admitted that the bolts broke "at an alarming rate" when they were tightened in March and pledged that Caltrans will use tougher standards for bolts in the future.
State Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, asked Dougherty, "What's Caltrans doing to regain the trust of the public" in the wake of problems with the Bay Bridge bolts as well as data falsification issues at the agency. Dougherty said, "That's one of my enormous challenges" but said, "We're correcting our problems in real time."
MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger said he hopes that reviews of the bolt contracting process and a plan to fix the problem that will be conducted by a peer review panel as well as the Federal Highway Administration "will add to the public's confidence" in MTC and Caltrans officials.
Heminger said he hopes that the new eastern span can still be opened on schedule on Sept. 3 but there is no estimated time yet for completing the bolt fix because Caltrans is still negotiating with the contractor. Caltrans Executive Director Andre Boutros said today that the agency's proposed solution to the bolt problem, which is installing steel saddles to hold down shear keys on the span, will cost up to $10 million.
Heminger said he hopes that a decision on whether to open the new span on time will be made by the time transportation officials present another update on the bolt problem at a special Bay Area Toll Authority meeting in Oakland on May 29.
DeSaulnier said he's unhappy about the problems with the bolts but added, "It's a good thing we found out about them before the bridge opened."