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Bridge engineer Brian Maroney further explains the testing they are planning on the steel bolts on the new span of the Bay Bridge during a press conference after the Bay Area Toll Authority Oversight Committee meeting at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in Oakland, Calif., on Wednesday, May 8, 2013. (Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group)

Sorry Gov. Brown, the infamous rod failures on the new Bay Bridge span cannot be dismissed as "s--- happens."

Since we first learned about the connectors that are critical to the bridge's seismic stability, Brown had said nothing -- even though his transportation department is responsible for construction.

Finally he broke his silence Tuesday with the widely reported flip comment, followed by, "There are very professional engineers that are looking at this thing, and when they're ready to give us their report, I think the public will be satisfied."

The next day we saw the first of those reports -- and we weren't satisfied. Most significantly, as we warned, it was written by engineers working for Caltrans and the bridge contractor, organizations with vested interests in the conclusions.

State transportation Director Malcolm Dougherty dumped the metallurgical analysis on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission minutes before delivering a PowerPoint summary that ignored a key finding implicating his agency.

As background, it has been known for weeks that the rods failed due to a type of corrosion known as "hydrogen embrittlement." One important question has been the source of the hydrogen in the steel. The answer could affect decisions about replacement of other rods and bolts on the bridge.

The analysis says the hydrogen was likely trapped in when the steel was galvanized. To be sure, experts are already questioning that finding. And most agree there were other key factors, most notably that the steel was susceptible to embrittlement because it was too hard.


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Right or wrong, the analysis raises questions about Caltrans' use of galvanized rods despite industry warnings that doing so could lead to failure. Caltrans says it was aware at the time of the potential problem, and called in specialists who developed specifications they thought would alleviate the danger. The analysis indicates that they didn't go far enough.

Dougherty, after all the scrutiny, owed it to the commissioners -- and to the public -- to note and address the finding. It was the second commission meeting in a row that he was not forthcoming.

Caltrans' insular culture is no longer acceptable.

Fortunately, public pressure has forced the committee overseeing Caltrans' construction of the bridge to call in the Federal Highway Administration for an outside review. But there remains ambiguity as to what that will cover.

It is critical to ensure the integrity of the new span and provide assurances to the public, that the highway administration investigates the reason for the rod failures, the integrity of similar rods produced two years later and the reliability of other steel connectors on the bridge.

Finally, the highway administration must evaluate the planned workaround developed because the failed rods are not accessible for replacement. A lot of thought seems to have gone into the fix. But that was also supposedly the case when the decision was made to galvanize the failed rods.

They must get it right this time. We don't want a future governor saying, "s--- happened."