OAKLAND -- Caltrans officials confirmed Monday that rain is leaking inside the new Bay Bridge but said it is manageable and not an unexpected maintenance problem.
"This is not surprising to us," Rick Land, Caltrans' chief deputy director, said Monday morning during a media tour through a lattice work of steel and spaces in the belly of the bridge. "We deal with issues like this on all our projects."
A story in the San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday suggested leaks inside the bridge pose a serious problem, the latest structural concern with a $6.4 billion span that had problems with flawed welds that had to be redone and cracked steel rods that had to be reinforced.
At a Monday news conference called by Caltrans to assuage any public concerns, officials said the bridge is safe. They said there is no risk to drivers from the leaks on the self-anchored suspension span, the showy centerpiece of the new eastern span of the bridge.
"If we ignored it, it would become a problem in the long term," Andrew Gordon, a Caltrans spokesman said, "but we're on top of it."
State officials said they aren't sure what caused the leaks, which create a corrosion risk to metal, but said they have a likely suspect.
Land said engineers believe rain may be flowing along electrical conduits and seeping into bolts that secure four guardrails on the sides of the westbound and east decks.
Officials also suspect the seeps may be related to strong Bay Area winds blowing water sideways, circumventing rain collection and drainage systems built into the bridge.
The amount of water appears to be small.
"It's a drip every once in a while. There are no locations where it's running," Land said, pointing to some of the bolts located under the westbound traffic deck.
Land swiped his finger on top of a bolt and came back with damp fingers then swiped them over another bolt and came up dry.
A few feet beneath the damp bolt, a thin narrow strip of water glistened on a v-shaped piece of metal illuminated by a news camera light.
Officials said that if the bolts are the source of the leak, Caltrans likely would fix it by caulking the bolts and tightening them down.
"We expect issues to come up during the shakedown period for a new project," Land said. "It's not a design issue, and it's not construction issue. It's something our inspectors find, and we figure out how to deal with it."
Caltrans officials said that the leaks were first discovered during storms in early December but that they couldn't assess the problem well until the big downpours began last week.
Land said he expects a team of engineers and other technical experts to pinpoint the cause in a few weeks. He had no estimates of repair costs.
Caltrans officials said they don't think the water is leaking through the deck because it has layers of caulk and epoxy coating under the concrete road bed.