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Phil Matier: Carquinez Bolt Problems Foreshadowed Bay Bridge Mess

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Carquinez Bridge

The Carquinez Bridge (Caltrans)

Phil-Matier_BIO-HEAD Phil Matier
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SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) — Caltrans is already facing tough questions raised in the wake of a highly critical report and a state senate committee hearing on engineers’ alerting agency managers about cracked welds on the Bay Bridge’s Eastern Span.

But now there are reports that there were similar problems involving the 1999 Carquinez Bridge retrofit project, according to the report released from the state transportation Committee investigating the cost overruns and those infamous bolts that had to be dealt with.

It turns out that the general contractor for the Carquinez Bridge project had subcontracted some of the steel manufacturing to Shanghai Zhenhua Port Machinery Co. (ZPMC)— the same Chinese steel maker that supplied parts for the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge.

ZMPC produced and shipped about 250,000 bolts to be used on that project but turned out to be the wrong size. Caltrans spokesman Matt Rocco confirmed they were improperly marked in regards to the thread sizes, alignment and grade.

According to Rocco, they had to be re-ordered, but he couldn’t say where the bolts wound up or whether taxpayers got stuck with the bill to replace them.

While this isn’t the biggest news, it’s raising more questions about these kinds of big projects and Caltrans inability to answer basic ones about what they have, or haven’t, been doing.

So shouldn’t what happened on the Carquinez Bridge project have been a warning to possibly use another company or draft a tougher contracts guaranteeing quality?

This is exactly what State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier and others on the committee are asking. While they are satisfied that the bridges are safe, they want to know if they are going to last—if we have to start working on them again in the near future—and, ultimately, how much it’s going to cost.

Far too often when stories like this arise, they get a lot of play and then disappear. The committee is trying to keep the pressure on and get answers.

They are finding, however, that there are more questions out there and that answers aren’t coming easy.

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