SF Bay Bridge new span to open months late due to busted bolts


The ongoing clusterfuck known as the eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge will not open on Labor Day, due to 32 massive bolts that cracked. Officials are confident the bridge will open sometime before the next millenium except if it doesn’t and that repairs will cost $15 million more except if it costs more.

In case you’re confused, perhaps Bay Area Toll Authority executive director Steve Heminger can clarify the issues.

“You can look at as our belt broke, and we are putting on some suspenders. We need to get the suspenders fabricated and installed”¦ we currently forecast that work will be done around about the middle of December”.

The span was supposed to open in 2003, so it’s already ten year later and nearly six times over budget.

PDF of report

Caltrans can’t find proof it inspected new Bay Bridge rods

Keystone  Cops RR tracks

The continuing calamity at the new San Francisco Bay Bridge span reaches epic, almost comical proportions. Caltrans isn’t sure if it inspected the huge rods, some of which may be cracked. Worse, there is no way to get them out to inspect them.

Caltrans has no evidence it verified the quality of the hundreds of irreplaceable rods needed to anchor the tower of the new Bay Bridge eastern span or made sure the manufacturer hadn’t left them vulnerable to cracking, officials acknowledge.

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.

Metallurgist: More bolts could snap on new San Francisco Bay Bridge

Credit: sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com
Screenshot showing bolt locations. Credit: sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com

32 of 96 bolts on the new, as yet-unopened span of the San Francisco Bay Bridge snapped in March. A retired metallurgist and “expert in his field” says more could break and puts the blame on Caltrans.

“It is very apparent that no one was paying attention to the possibility of hydrogen embrittlement when the rods were in service,” said Chung. “Instead, they were focused on hydrogen in the production process. From what I see in the documents, Dyson (the manufacturer) gave Caltrans what it asked for. Caltrans fell on its face.”

The bolts are 17-24 feet long and 3 inches thick and connect the bridge span to earthquake safety devices. As the video and screenshot show, the bolts popped up several inches. The new bridge is supposed to open Labor Day, with huge celebrations planned with hotels in the area are completely booked. No one knows now if the bridge will open on time.


Oopsie, SF Bay Bridge bolts snap after being tightened

Credit: Contra Costa Times
Credit: Contra Costa Times

How do you replace 32 massive bolts, 9-24 feet long, on the SF Bay Bridge when a new roadbed is on top of them? Engineers are working on it.

Metallurgists say massive bolts holding the roadbed to the pier on the new SF Bay Bridge shouldn’t have snapped. But they did, 32 out of 96 bolts that were tightened in March have fractured. The remaining 192 bolts will not be tightened until they figure out what went wrong.

The Contra Costa Times has an in depth article on the SF Bay Bridge bolts snapping. One metallurgist suspects a defect in the bolts themselves. Yikes.