WEST SACRAMENTO -- Just three months ago, Gov. Jerry Brown stood on the Bay Bridge, pushed a glowing button that started a countdown for the Labor Day opening of the new span, and spoke loftily of exciting plans in store for the gleaming new structure.
"We're going to have a bicycle race, running, walking -- tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people," Brown told a television reporter in a segment that ran just after the San Francisco 49ers lost the Super Bowl.
"It was big in 1936 when we were in a Depression," he said of the first Bay Bridge opening. "It ought to be just as big this time."
Tuesday, Brown had a saltier way of describing the moment he was in, after weeks of controversy over cracked bolts on the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge that threatens to delay the opening: "Don't know if it's a setback. I mean, look, shit happens."
Speaking to reporters after attending a memorial service at the California Highway Patrol Academy, Brown said it was premature to "pull our hair out yet" and that he was "optimistic until proven otherwise" that the new addition to the nation's busiest bridge will work out.
Brown said he would wait to comment further until Caltrans and the California Transportation Commission release their findings Wednesday on the severity of the problem -- and whether the opening of the new span would remain on schedule for Labor Day.
"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," he said.
Three dozen cracked bolts -- discovered by Caltrans bridge engineers in mid-March -- on the new bridge's single tower suspension span could throw a wrench into those plans. Administration officials may be forced to delay the opening of the new span of the Bay Bridge -- in the works since the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake -- depending on the results of a study to be released Wednesday.
Since the bolts were discovered, Brown had refrained from commenting on a project that he'd embraced as far back as when he was running for mayor in Oakland and had pushed for a spectacular design that could serve as a "civic symbol" for Oakland, a triumph of design and function.
At the time, then-Gov. Pete Wilson sought a more utilitarian replacement span, which was panned by Elihu Harris, Oakland's outgoing mayor, as "a freeway on stilts." Harris, Brown and other leaders saw the new Bay Bridge as a gateway, a chance to show off the Oakland ports and hills.
"We want excellence, not average," said Brown, who'd just been elected as mayor.
Much of Brown's legacy as governor is tied to his aggressive pursuit of major infrastructure projects: high-speed rail, twin water tunnels in the Central Valley and the rebuilt eastern span of the Bay Bridge, which he noted in February is "pointing to Oakland."
California, he said at the countdown event, is in a "building mood. This has taken a lot of blood, sweat and tears, a lot of billions of dollars, but at the end, it's worth it because we're building for the future. When you build things, they last. People come and go, but the bridges and roads and the tracks, they stay for a long time."
This isn't the first controversy surrounding Caltrans and the new Bay Bridge span. Last year, Caltrans was mired in a dispute with the Sacramento Bee over its report that questioned the structural integrity of a foundation of the span.
Caltrans officials have been under pressure to justify its inspection process for the bolts, name the cause, figure out a permanent fix as well as to determine whether the bridge would be safe to open on schedule.
A possible manufacturing glitch, nuts that were perhaps wrenched too tightly or something involving a $1 million exterior steel sheath that would clamp together the affected bridge pieces are all being considered as possible factors.
A third out of 96 threaded steel rods -- 3 inches thick and 9 to 24 feet long -- snapped in early March after crews tightened them down with nuts.
The rods are part of two 11-foot-tall steel and concrete seismic components called shear keys and bearings, sandwiched between the bridge deck and the top of the pier just east of the main tower. The devices clamp the bridge deck to the pier and would help counteract movement during an earthquake.