Thanks to the thorough reporting of colleague Lisa Vorderbrueggen in Sunday's newspaper, Bay Area residents can rest safe in the knowledge that experts think the new Bay Bridge is sort-of, kind-of, more-or-less built to withstand a big earthquake.

OK, there's one proviso.

"There are no guarantees in earthquakes," Caltrans principal bridge engineer Brian Maroney told her. "We are going to have damage."

But really, what do you expect for $6.4 billion?

For all of the "Three Stooges" episodes I watched in a misspent youth, I can't recall Moe, Larry and Curly ever building a bridge. But if they had, it might have gone a lot like the new span connecting Oakland and Treasure Island.

Two workers climb the cable on the Bay Bridge eastern span as other crews began work fixing the problem of broken rods on the shear keys with the
Two workers climb the cable on the Bay Bridge eastern span as other crews began work fixing the problem of broken rods on the shear keys with the installation of a saddle on Thursday afternoon May 23, 2013 in San Francisco, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

Endless revisions? Check.

Eye-bulging mistakes? Right!

Inexcusable delays? Natch.

Huge cost overruns? Certainly!

There have been questions about the stability of the concrete in a suspension tower, defects in some of the welds, microscopic cracks in Chinese-manufactured steel decks and a crane toppling into the bay, none of which touches on the most recent controversy.

That would be the 32 hydrogen-embrittled steel anchor rods used in seismic stabilizers that were galvanized -- disregarding Caltrans' own protocol -- and then, surprise, cracked when bolts were tightened.

You can almost see Moe pulling out Larry's hair over that one.


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It would be troubling enough to have to replace the rods, but inasmuch as they are anchored in concrete that isn't possible. The newest revision in an ever-changing plan is a workaround -- custom-designed saddle supports, manufactured and installed at a cost of as much as $10 million.

What's $10 million at this point?

It was intriguing to read last week -- again, courtesy of Lisa V. -- that Caltrans and private engineers deliberated for three full months in 2003 before arriving at the precise corrosion-prevention treatment that now is blamed for causing the rods to fail. If they had given it any deeper thought, the whole eastern span might have washed out to sea by now.

You can tell this is a monumental clusterfutz when even loquacious Gov. Jerry Brown is left grasping for words -- and then rethinking them. His initial reaction: "I mean, look, (stuff) happens." Two weeks later: "It's a pretty big issue. I drive over that bridge, too."

The way the weeks, months and mistakes have flown by, it's hard to believe only 24 years have passed since California leaders decided a Bay Bridge upgrade was imperative. The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake that shook loose a section of the upper deck and resulted in a motorist's death set into motion the most second-guessed, re-envisioned and expensive infrastructure project in state history.

A retrofit became a rebuild, which became a redesign, which became fodder for arguments for years to come.

The big question now is whether the bridge will be completed by Labor Day weekend, when a publicly funded, $5 million celebration is supposed to make us forget all the missteps that put it a decade behind schedule.

Labor Day was selected, in part, because it seemed such an appropriate holiday. But if that doesn't work, I have another idea.

How about April Fool's Day?

Contact Tom Barnidge at tbarnidge@bayareanewsgroup.com.