The fallout from the Bay Bridge failed-rod fiasco has unmasked chaos and incompetence surrounding construction of the new span.

For months now, transportation officials have scrambled to explain why 32 critical connectors corroded and then snapped when tension was applied, figure out a workaround, and determine what should done with 2,210 similarly treated bolts.

On Monday, they released a report detailing what went wrong: The choice of metal and the coating for the bolts didn't account for high-tension use in a corrosive environment. Required testing was not performed. Water was allowed to collect in the holes surrounding the bolts, possibly exacerbating the corrosion. Critical records were lost.

Unfortunately, subsequent actions indicate an insular culture persists, especially at the state Department of Transportation, known as Caltrans, and that officials overseeing bridge construction may be destined to repeat the mistakes of the past.

One needs a scorecard to keep track of players in this drama. The central entity, Caltrans, remains a dysfunctional organization that bears much blame for where we are today.

Caltrans not only oversees daily bridge construction, it also let the contracts with TY Lin International/Moffett & Nichol Design Joint Venture, the architect and engineer of record, and American Bridge/Fluor Joint Venture, the contractor for the work at the center of the controversy.


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Caltrans spends bridge toll revenues and state money. After repeated cost overruns, state lawmakers in 2005 created the Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee to serve as a check.

TBPOC consists of the executive directors of Caltrans; the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which controls toll revenues; and the California Transportation Commission, which allocates state funds.

TBPOC now oversees this process. Steve Heminger, the MTC executive director and chairman of TBPOC, has taken the lead. He deserves credit for forcing creation of Monday's report, a scathing public airing of the failures of TY Lin, American Bridge and Caltrans.

While Heminger says only transparency will help regain public confidence in the new span, Malcolm Dougherty, Caltrans' director and another TBPOC member, continues to obfuscate.

As documented in this column two months ago, Dougherty will say one thing one moment then contradict himself the next. His failure to directly address important issues continues.

For example, Sacramento Bee investigative reporter Charles Piller revealed in May that steel tendons critical to the structural integrity of the roadway were discovered in 2006 to have rusted. Ducts containing the tendons had been left unsealed, allowing water to enter. Piller reported that Caltrans' subsequent dismissal of the problem was based on faulty data.

At a meeting Wednesday, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, a member of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, asked Dougherty to prepare a response. It wasn't the first time commissioners had asked. Legislators have sought the same. But Dougherty has dragged his feet, saying that the issue was resolved years ago.

Then there's the challenge of what to do about other bridge bolts like those that failed. The three TBPOC members insist the bridge can be safely opened after installation of a bracket that will substitute for the failed bolts. Fabrication of the bracket is not expected to be completed until December. They say they can safely deal with other bolts later.

The question is how. The three insist they know why the 32 bolts corroded and broke apart. Some respected outside metallurgists disagree with their reasoning. Unfortunately, Caltrans remains uninterested in their opinions and unwilling to subject its work to outside metallurgical peer review.

Such an independent back-check might have prevented the current crisis, and might avert another.

Daniel Borenstein is a staff columnist and editorial writer. Contact him at 925-943-8248 ordborenstein@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/BorensteinDan.