May 8th is a big day for the new span of the Bay Bridge. That’s when the San Francisco travelers will learn get answers to two big questions: what the Bay Area Toll Authority is going to do about the broken bolts fiasco, and whether the bridge is still on track for a Labor Day opening.
Back in March, California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) officials found that 32 steel bolts had cracked and that those bolts play a vital role in the seismic integrity of bridge. Investigations showed those bolts – plus 60 more that have not broken – were made brittle from hydrogen exposure. To make matters worse, the bolts are built into the road deck, so they can’t be replaced.
And now there are new problems. The San Francisco Chronicle recently discovered that 1,200 other bolts used in the new bridge are made from the a similar hardened, galvanized steel, also prone to cracking. In fact, that type of steel is so susceptible to breaking that the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials – a group that sets national guidelines for transportation construction – has banned it for use in bridges.
Caltrans officials defended its use of the hardened steel but said they were checking all the bolts and fasteners on the bridge.
Caltrans is looking into two different jury-rigged solutions to stabilize the compromised sections. Wednesday’s announcement will tell us what they’re going with – and what it means for the $6.4 billion bridge’s future.
In the meantime, about 270,000 vehicles will continue to cross the bridge each day.