SF Bay Bridge bolts – 1,200 may need replacing

Bolt that has lost tension. Credit: Caltrans via Mercurynews.com
Bolt that has lost tension. Credit: Caltrans via Mercurynews.com

The Bay Bridge bolts fiasco just gets worse and worse. More than 1,200 giant bolts holding the new, as yet-unopened east replacement span of the San Francisco Bay Bridge in place have become brittle and may need replacing. They were manufactured on specs from Caltrans which violate Caltrans own construction manual, federal guidelines, and those of a nationwide transportation group.  Caltrans said they did this because this bridge was different. Well, maybe not so different after all.

Caltrans really needs to get in front of this story and get honest. Everyone is still pretending the bridge will be open on schedule on Labor Day. Since hundreds of bolts, some 24 feet long, may  need to be replaced and since orders for the new bolts haven’t gone out yet, there’s zero chance of the new bridge opening on time.

In addition to replacing bolts, other solutions are being investigated but these do not preclude having bolts replaced.

Caltrans Executive Director Andre Boutros said transportation officials are looking at two possible approaches to the problem: building a steel collar in which two plates would be stacked or welded together, or building a steel saddle.

A contractor already has placed a steel order for both design options, Boutros said.

No story I’ve seen has explains how cracked bolts will be taken out and replacement bolts put in. Labor Day is about 120 days away. If all 1,200 are brittle that means 10 bolts a day would need to be replaced starting now, and that’s not including time for testing.

The problem is the bolts were overly hardened. For the technical details, see our previous posts on this developing calamity.