Absent any more last-minute surprises, officials will announce Thursday that the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge will open in September, perhaps as early as Labor Day weekend.

The discussion has moved from picking a date when the project is completed to selecting a time when the new span will be safer for traffic than the one it will replace.

In other words, nearly 24 years after the Loma Prieta earthquake and more than $6 billion later, the bridge will open because it's better than what we have. Talk about a low bar.

There will be no costly public party because there isn't time. Never mind that the fete originally planned would have been an extravagant waste of public funds. Never mind that there really isn't much to celebrate.

The new eastern span of the Bay Bridge is illuminated during test of lighting near Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013. The fixtures with LED lights
The new eastern span of the Bay Bridge is illuminated during test of lighting near Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013. The fixtures with LED lights are positioned in the direction of travel to protect motorists from glare. The lights will need to be replaced every 10 to 15 years. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

From start to finish, this has been a fiasco. It began with years of political haggling over the design. It concluded with scrambling to repair costly mistakes caused by Caltrans incompetence.

Heads should roll at the state transportation department. That probably won't happen because Gov. Jerry Brown seems to think that these were just problems typical of a major project -- that these sorts of things just happen, although he used somewhat saltier language.

Actually, things go wrong when an insular, bureaucratic agency ignores advice of experts and proceeds on autopilot while attempting to build a structure in a way that has never been tried before.

Perhaps more than ever before, Caltrans' well-known shortcomings have been put on full display. Its director, Malcolm Dougherty, has become a poster child for what's wrong at the agency, evading questions and providing contradictory answers when he does respond.

It shouldn't be forgotten that this sad saga is not over. The bridge will open only after the installation of temporary shims to make up for the earthquake strength lost when critical rods broke during construction. The permanent fix is still months away.

Meanwhile, it seems certain that faulty metals selection will necessitate costly extra monitoring and maintenance over the life of the span. And key questions about the steel tendons critical to the structural integrity of the roadway remain unanswered.

Like other concerns raised by outside experts, the questions about the tendons have been dismissed by Caltrans officials without adequate explanation. They've even ignored inquiries by members of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Agency leaders seem to think they know best -- and want everyone else to just trust them.

We've just seen how well that works out.