Feds never checked bridge fix

The Bay Bridge fix that halted traffic across the span for more than five days was not inspected by federal authorities, The Examiner learned, despite public promises from the state agency that oversees the structure.

During a scheduled shutdown of the bridge during Labor Day weekend, a cracked load-bearing beam, called an eyebar, was discovered, leading to a fast fix using improvised steel components. Seven weeks later, on Oct. 27, the repair failed — due in part to strong wind gusts — and steel rained down on rush-hour traffic. The span was shuttered until the morning of Nov. 2 while Caltrans completed repairs.

On Oct. 29, in response to questions about the safety of the repairs, Caltrans Director Randell Iwasaki and California Business, Transportation and Housing Agency Secretary Dale Bonner said publicly that the repairs would be inspected by the Federal Highway Administration, the Seismic Safety Review Board and other outside experts.

“The other thing that we’re going to do this time is we are working with the [Federal Highway Administration] and some additional outside inspectors that are not only looking at the work as we’re doing it but they’re going to be looking at the work when it’s completed,” Bonner said during a news conference. “They’ll be inspecting everything just to make sure there are outside experts who will be providing some additional assurance that the bridge is completely safe, that the repairs were completed appropriately, and that it is appropriate to open the bridge to traffic.”

But the federal highway agency says it was not involved in the final inspections.

“Inspected is not the appropriate characterization,” spokeswoman Nancy Singer said Wednesday. “We provided technical assistance and support to Caltrans.”

Caltrans spokespeople Bart Ney and Lauren Wonder did not reply to e-mails or repeated phone calls seeking comment Wednesday about the role of inspectors in the repair process.

In addition, Frieder Seible, the chair of a seismic advisory board established by Caltrans, previously told The Examiner that he signed off on the repair from San Diego, where he serves as dean of the UC San Diego School of Engineering.

On the day the bridge reopened, Seible said he had visited it during the repair efforts and signed off remotely.

After Caltrans completed the repairs on the cracked eyebar last week, the agency increased inspections on the work, which were described as temporary.

The new Bay Bridge repair may cause another days-long bridge closure before February, Caltrans said Wednesday.

jupton@sfexaminer.com

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