All Bay Areans should already know that a new Eastern span of the Bay Bridge is being built. For those not keeping tabs on what’s happening, things are awfully awry with the construction. The most infamous problem are the hundreds of broken bolts that need to be replaced. Just recently, reports of reinforcing rods, which are responsible for seismic safety, have been compromised. And there is something that has been kept under wraps – in this case, underwater – that has not yet been published in any public document…until now.
Earlier this week, I was chatting with a random stranger while I was at Best Buy. He was an average guy wearing a bright orange construction vest, a faded navy blue T-shirt, sandy brown pants and typical work boots. Let’s call him John*.
As we were chatting about tablets, I eventually asked John what he was working on. John explained that he is one the key players on the Bay Bridge project. That instantly put me into journo mode and many questions started firing in my brain.
The first question I asked was about finishing in time for Labor Day. Officials have already announced and have been reported in the SF Chronicle that the new span would no longer open as planned on Labor Day, but “at least December.” According to John, it would be “at least a year and half.” If what he says is true, expect another postponement announcement in November.
I expressed that they shouldn’t rush to fix the problem to ensure the public safety and he agreed. I then inquired about other problems besides the broken bolts. Shaking his head and his face full of disheartenment, John explained that there was a menagerie of problems. Before he continued, I asked what the biggest problem was. He told me, which I will explain later. I quickly asked, “Is it in the news?” He replied, “No.”
John confessed that this was a very stressful project that is affecting everyone involved. He then went on a tangent that they do whatever they can to release stress, including having a punching bag in a room (I believe many workplaces should have this) and shooting things with rifles ON the new span (friggin’ awesome!) – all to prevent suicide, John explained.
He continued, mentioning that it’s stressful having “someone yelling down your throat.” John’s colleague was so frustrated at what was going on with this project that he literally threw his iPhone off the bridge in a fit of anger – probably, ‘cause iPhones suck! lol
Another tangent followed; this time about his coworkers’ nickname of the bridge: Suicide Bridge. “The new span?” I asked. He clarified that it was the existing Eastern span because of the S-curve. John then explained that him and his buddies would sit around at lunch and watch drivers screech their tires due to speeding on the notorious S-curve, which once claimed the life of a truck driver, resulting in the 40 mph speed limit.
To lighten the mood, I told John about a name I thought of for the new span: the Silver Stake Bridge, which I believe would go well with the Golden Gate Bridge. Nodding in approval, John told me he’ll write that one on the board of proposed names ”because Suicide Bridge would never fly,” I said.
“Isn’t that a nickname for the Golden Gate Bridge already?” I joked. We both chuckled. (Suicide is nothing to joke about, but like I said, I was lightening the mood.)
Before I reveal what the major problem is, let me tell y’all about yesterday. Some friends and I were at a beach in Half Moon Bay that had many logs and branches scattered about. There was even an impressive small hut that was built from said pieces. Walking along the beach with my group, we encountered a long, slightly-curved log. I decided to demonstrate to the group what I recently discovered about the new span of the Bay Bridge.
As a team, we erected this 14-foot log, but because of poor planning, despite trying to level the sand base, it did not stay upright. We dropped the log and decided to dig a hole that would support it. After digging a two-foot-deep hole, we once again erected the log. This time, it stayed upright. The log was definitely the tallest structure on the beach yesterday, which instantly reminded me of the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. I explained to my crew that this playful exercise was a similar problem to the solo support beam/tower of the new Eastern span of the Bay Bridge. Unlike the log, the solo support beam/tower cannot be simply knocked down to be repositioned. What is the centerpiece of the new span is also its surprising downfall. Aside from the faulty bolts and wrecked rods, the solitary foundation at the sea floor beneath the bay waters was not properly set.
According to John, the “straight-outta-college” engineers, did not account for the water currents ever-adjusting the soil beneath the base. In other words, the engineers overlooked this very important variable. To sum it up, the bridge sank two feet. If you’re thinking, “So what?” or “That’s it?” consider this: if a regular door was off even by a centimeter, would you be able to close it? It throws all measurements off balance. Could it be that this slightly sunken span has caused the bolts and rods to break?
What the public does not now know is that the engineering and construction team have been trying to remedy this major problem by somehow lifting up the colossal beam in several ways, with no current luck. Read: too friggin’ heavy. Instead of initially pouring cement to secure the foundation, they just pounded the sea ground to the point that they believed would be stable enough to hold the only footing of the new span, explained John.
Like the first attempt of erecting the log, despite trying to dig around the base for balance, we failed to set a stable foundation, just as the engineers have seemingly failed to account for the soil. And just like the foundation in the soil, let this sink in…
The new Eastern span of the Bay Bridge is California’s most expensive public works project to date – only $6.3 billion…and counting. Is there a price on safety? Expect Bay Bridge tolls to rise once again.
After this discovery, I hope human ingenuity comes through for the team faster than one and a half years. Although this new span is renowned as an advanced feat in engineering, which would make it the only suspension bridge with a solitary tower in the world, I guess Murphy (Murphy’s Law) had to show face to test humanity’s will power and perseverance.
They’re so close yet so far. Let’s hope all goes well before both spans collapse.
*Name has been changed to prevent a possible job termination due to a supposed confidentiality agreement…if that even exists.