OAKLAND -- A decision on whether the new Bay Bridge will open Labor Day weekend will not be made until July 10, and failure to meet the holiday date could mean the bridge debut will be delayed several months, transportation officials said Wednesday.
The announcement, made by Metropolitan Transportation Commission Executive Director Steve Heminger at a special meeting about the bridge repairs Wednesday was not unexpected.
"There isn't any way to sugar coat it, we're going to need a little more time (before we decide)," Heminger told the Bay Area Toll Authority commissioners, meeting for the fifth briefing since steel anchor rods snapped on the $6.4 billion span two months ago.
Last week construction workers began prepping the trouble spot -- where 32 out of 96 high-strength bolts became brittle and broke -- to prepare for a steel saddle which was selected as the method to retrofit the seismic stabilizers.
The delay in the opening can be tied to the slower-than-anticipated testing of the 2,306 bridge fasteners to ensure they will not fracture, as well as an unfinished Federal Highway Administration review of repairs and testing protocols.
Transportation officials faced questions about the testing, peer review and timelines by the commissioners at Wednesday's meeting in Oakland.
The three agencies overseeing construction -- Caltrans, California Transportation Commission and the Bay Area Toll Authority -- originally selected the Labor Day weekend opening because they needed four days to connect traffic lanes in the new span. But Heminger and Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty said safety will drive the decision whether to open on schedule. Labor Day is ideal not only for the long weekend, but also for good weather conditions. Caltrans would have to find another long weekend with good weather to schedule the opening, and that could mean a months-long delay.
Heminger told the commission that three things had to be resolved by July 10 in order for the bridge team to announce that it could meet the scheduled opening. The failure to achieve any one of them could doom the date.
In an effort to fully inform the commision of all the challenges and issues faced by the bridge team -- rather than reading about them first in the media -- bridge engineer Brian Maroney also spent considerable time talking about the problems the team has overcome, including problem welds on roadway boxes in China, broken bolts on the bikeway railing, and possible corrosion in skyway tendons, among other things.
As far as issues on the bike path rails, some small bolts snapped when a contractor mistakenly welded decorative caps directly onto deck plates rather than the tops of the bolts, which are threaded through oval grooves that allow the path to move but keep the railing in place, said bridge spokesman Andrew Gordon. As the structure heated and cooled, the bolts' movements were restricted and sheared under the unintended load.
Inspectors discovered the glitch last year and the contractor subsequently replaced all the bolts. Maroney said that the decorative caps were eliminated from the design.
Elected officials and bridge experts voiced concerns over waning public confidence in the bridge.
Dollene Jones, 49, a retired AC Transit bus driver, was driving a full busload of passengers on the C-line to Piedmont when the Loma Prieta earthquake struck. She was just on the bridge just east of the section of roadway that collapsed when cars all around her started weaving. She urged the commission to prepare a safety plan that has an evacuation plan and includes all transit agencies that use the bridge, not just the those located in the immediate Bay Area.
"They just need to lay it out for the people and don't make anything up," she said.
In the wake of all the issues that surfaced with the bridge, State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, has sponsored two bills; one that establishes criteria for a state peer review panel to investigate public works projects, and another that creates an Office of Legal Compliance and Ethics that will provide greater oversight of Caltrans and concentrate on preventing and discovering breaches of policy and abuse. Both bills passed the senate with unanimous votes.
Meanwhile, two contractors who produced the steel and the anchor rods recently spoke publicly for the first time since the controversy started in March and washed their hands of any blame, saying they followed Caltrans specifications.
Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.