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The new eastern span (L) of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay bridge stands next to the old bridge in San Francisco, California September 2, 2013. The largest self-anchored suspension bridge in the world will open before Tuesday morning's rush hour across San Francisco Bay, six years behind schedule and five times over budget. The new $6 billion eastern section of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, one of the busiest spans in the United States, is expected to be open on Tuesday for 280,000 daily commuters. The Bay Area Toll Authority said the bridge could open as soon as Monday night.   REUTERS/Stephen Lam (UNITED STATES - Tags: TRANSPORT BUSINESS CONSTRUCTION) - RTX135B2
The California Department of Transportation's decision to save money by hiring a Chinese company that had never built a bridge to build major parts of the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge was troubling to begin with. A major Sacramento Bee investigation pushes it from troubling to terrifying. The article, by Charles Piller, details how Caltrans management was determined to stick with Chinese contractor ZPMC even as Caltrans inspectors repeatedly caught the company making significant mistakes and failing on quality control measures:
But committee chair Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, suggested that Caltrans had tried to cover up serious problems with “a deliberate and willful ... attempt to obfuscate.”

His comments were echoed by experts inside and outside Caltrans – some of whom supervised the welding and warned of serious flaws. They said the state bought a bridge likely to require extraordinary and costly maintenance. [...]

Professional engineers, he said, must report “any irregularities that could affect public welfare.” That’s what [Doug Coe, a Caltrans engineer who worked on the project in China] and his colleagues did.

“But (Caltrans) has the prerogative to accept these (cracked or suspect parts), ‘fit for purpose,’ ” Coe said. That’s what Caltrans managers did.

The whole thing is really worth a read, but the bottom line is this: Caltrans started out by hiring an inexperienced company labeled as "high risk" and given only a contingent pass by an expert to build parts of a major bridge in an earthquake-prone location. Then, when problems were found by Caltrans' own engineers, its managers said they weren't really problems and threw more money at the project, leading to cost and time overruns after having hired ZPMC because it would supposedly be cheap and fast. Caltrans is insisting that the bridge is safe despite what Piller describes as a "litany of problems" including "suspect foundation concrete, broken anchor rods and rust on the suspension span’s main cable." The problem is, it's not clear Bay Area commuters should believe that.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Tue Jun 10, 2014 at 08:45 AM PDT.

Also republished by California politics and Daily Kos.

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