Today's headline: Bridge bites governor.
Stung by another revelation about work on the new Bay Bridge, Gov. Jerry Brown's administration abruptly canceled Caltrans' $10 million consulting contract with the project's public affairs team eight months before the span opens to traffic.
The governor's staff says the three-year contract extends beyond the Labor Day 2013 opening date and contains inappropriate uses of tollpayer money such as a commemorative book and documentary video.
These can't be the real reasons.
To start, $10 million over three years is budget dust in a $6.4 billion project. Caltrans bills tollpayers $100 million a year for construction management, engineering and support costs.
Yes, the bridge will open to traffic in September, but it will take another two years to wrap up construction and dismantle the old span.
Informing the public about traffic interruptions and handling demands for access to the world's biggest self-anchored suspension span doesn't stop on opening day.
The book and video are undeniably self-indulgent gestures on Caltrans' part although relatively cheap ones. The budgeted production hours account for just 2 percent of the total 59,490 contract hours.
And finally, the contract in question is mostly a continuation of the same people doing much of the same work they have been doing since 2005.
Caltrans broke out the public affairs piece earlier this year from
The request for proposal undeniably favored the existing team but there are no guarantees. Led by longtime bridge spokesman Bart Ney, the team formed MegaProject Studios and they were the only bidders.
Surely, it makes more sense to renegotiate the objectionable items. Do you cut down a tree that just needs pruning?
Of course not. But the governor's swipe at Caltrans is understandable.
The agency failed to secure the administration's blessing before it signed a $10 million public affairs contract for the most expensive and high profile construction project in state history.
Then, the governor's people learned about the deal from the Sacramento Bee.
It's not the first time.
Year after year, Caltrans directors squirm in the hot seat after news surfaces about tortured internal machinations over everything from cost overruns to a rogue inspector's falsified concrete tests.
It probably never occurred to Caltrans to deviate from standard procedure and run through the governor's people what transportation staffers considered a standard public relations plan.
Caltrans just doesn't get it: The Bay Bridge is different. It has always been different. It chews up standard procedures along with politicians and public agencies.
Ironically, the collateral damage from the governor's decision is the very contract that brings transparency to the bridge.
MegaProject Studios' Ney and his team are out of jobs as of Jan. 8, barring some new agreement.
Speaking as a reporter who has relied heavily on Ney, the prospect of losing him and his people in the months leading up to the bridge opening is scary.
He's innovative. He works nights and weekends. And his strategies are catching on.
Based on experience with preparing commuters for Bay Bridge construction closures, Ney and his team wrote the model for the roadway closure campaign recently used in Los Angeles to avert the feared "carmageddeon."
He and his team have taken thousands of school children onto the bridge and used the construction site as a tool to encourage young people to pursue engineering careers.
His firm's cutting-edge use of social media, mobile phone apps, video and 3-D graphics to explain complex engineering concepts has won awards.
Ney took fire when he allowed "The Bachelor" television show to film a date on the western span's cables. But he had parlayed the access into a free spot about an upcoming bridge closure during a program with 30 million viewers.
Despite the ups and downs, Ney never imagined his seven years on the Bay Bridge might end this way.
"There are two things saving me in this moment," he said. "First, I have always understood that the real star is the Bay Bridge, not me. And frankly, I have a great wife. She isn't freaked out."
She may be the only one.
The administration, Caltrans and the Bay Area Toll Authority had better come up with a plan and fast.
We, the driving public, are paying through then nose for this bridge and we want to know everything about it. We want to walk on it. We want see it on television.
Remember, the public bites, too.