SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — Transportation officials are concerned about the possibility that the new eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge may have many more bad bolts than originally thought, KPIX 5 has learned.

A published report Wednesday also suggested yet another problem for Caltrans: the new bridge tower has flawed welds that are said to be in need of repair.

The developments unfolded as leaders involved with the bridge project met in Sacramento to work out plans to replace 32 brittle, defective bolts.

Those anchor bolts recently snapped when they were tightened; the bolts were manufactured in 2008 and are believed to have failed because too much exposure to hydrogen made them brittle. Questions were then raised about the long-term strength of another 192 similar bolts along the span.

But transportation officials acknowledged additional concerns Wednesday that up to 2,400 smaller bolts along the new $6 billion bridge could have problems too.

“We have done a visual inspection of similar rods elsewhere on the span and they have not shown any signs of problems,” said Andrew Gordon, a Bay Bridge spokesman.

“But that’s not good enough,” added Steve Heminger, who heads the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. “We need to look through their histories, their pedigrees, all of their testing results and perhaps re-test them — before we give the ‘all clear’ signal.”

He continued, “the bottom line for the public is that we are not going to open this bridge until every bolt on that thing has enough confidence that we are good to go.”

How long could all the necessary reviews and testing take?

“Right now to talk about that would be pure speculation,” Gordon said.

Questions also surfaced Wednesday as to whether Caltrans, the state agency building the bridge, followed their own protocols when the faulty bolts were purchased.

“Looking back in hindsight, I think that looking at some other types of fasteners might have made sense,” Heminger responded when asked if Caltrans bought the wrong bolts. “There are other kinds of fasteners that are a bit sturdier when it comes to this type of problem, and so I think it is a fair question to ask.”

The headaches for bridge engineers appeared to be compounding further with a Sacramento Bee newspaper report Wednesday that the new bridge tower has about 20 flawed welds that are critical to the seismic safety of the bridge and must be repaired.

The report came on the heels of an investigation by the newspaper that found apparent conflicts of interest involving some of the experts asked to conduct a technical review of the tower foundation. The Bee reported members of the panel created by the Legislative Analyst’s Office have current or recent financial and professional ties to Caltrans and Bay Bridge contractors.

(Copyright 2013 CBS San Francisco. All rights reserved.)


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