Eastern span of San Francisco Bay Bridge construction investigated
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Eastern span of San Francisco Bay Bridge construction investigated

Oakland : CA : USA | Nov 13, 2011 at 1:17 PM PST
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San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge Eastern New Span Construction 7/28/10

The celebrations for the construction of the original San Francisco Bay Bridge 75 years ago opened under a cloud yesterday. An investigative report in the Sacramento Bee found that the California Department of Transportation technician who conducted testing to check the structural integrity of the Bay Bridge’s new eastern span’s foundation was later disciplined for fabricating test results on other projects, according to the report by the Bee.

The technician, Duane Wiles, also failed to verify that his testing gauge was operating properly, as required by Caltrans to ensure the gauge's accuracy, before he examined parts of the Bay Bridge tower foundation. The investigation reports that Caltrans failed to investigate the matter even though safety concerns were raised by other test employees and an “anonymous whistleblower.”

The new San Francisco-Oakland bay bridge is an eastern span scheduled to be completed and open for traffic in 2013 at the cost of $6.3 billion. It is reported to be the largest public works project in California history, and its design is said to be able to withstand the strongest earthquake.

Until contacted by The Bee for comment, Caltrans had not assessed Wiles' work on the Bay Bridge tower.

Although Caltrans says the bridge is safe, The Bee's findings raise questions about its structural integrity that are not easy to answer. Outside experts say the bridge tower foundation probably is reliable but suggest further review.

Caltrans chief engineer Robert Pieplow said in a written statement, "As for the Bay Bridge," "the (tower foundations) are safe and it would be highly misleading and irresponsible to suggest otherwise," the Sacramento Bee reported.

Factors Prompting the Construction of the New Eastern Span

The collapse of a portion of the upper deck of the Bay Bridge following the Loma Pieta Earthquake demonstrated the critical need for seismic safety on Bay Area bridges. California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) conducted a seismic upgrade for the Bay Bridge, which encompassed six projects.

The upgrade of the East Span section of the bridge, which runs from Yerba Buena Island to the Oakland shore, is the result of those projects.

The Bay Bridge is the Lifeline between Oakland and San Francisco

Because the bay bridge is a “lifeline,” its seismic safety is of the upmost importance in design, and building inspections are integral to ensuring the foundation can withstand an earthquake similar in magnitude to the Loma Prieta earthquake that collapsed a portion of the old bridge in 1989.

Caltrans has designated the Bay Bridge as an emergency lifeline route to be used in disaster response activities. Under Caltrans criteria, a lifeline transportation route:

  • allows emergency relief access to and through the affected region
  • connects major population centers within the affected region
  • serves as the most effective of several routes for emergency relief access
  • provides direct or nearby access to and from major emergency supply centers
  • links various modes of transportation
  • provides access to major traffic distribution centers

As a lifeline route, the bridge would be used to provide post-quake transportation services for emergency response and support for the region's economy. It is critical for the bridge to remain functional following an earthquake. Seismic safety, meeting modern operational standards, and the need to maintain a lifeline route are all integral factors in upgrading the East Span, according to the East Span Safety Project.

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Collapsed Bridge
Collapsed portion of the San Francisco Bay Bridge from the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake.
Dava Castillo is based in Clearlake, California, United States of America, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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