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Phil Matier: The Politics Of Busted Bolts, Bay Bridge Safety

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) — Caltrans said it will know within two weeks whether or not the compromised bolts on the Bay Bridge will delay the opening for the eastern span. And of course there are political considerations.

The plan is to have the fix for the 32 bolts that snapped decided on May 8. That is something that they think they can fix before the opening on Labor Day. While it's important to note that these bolts only stabilize the bridge during an earthquake - they don't bear any load - no one likes the idea of busted bolts.


The other 192 bolts, however, are spread all over the bridge, and they have to test them. The engineers are actually going to take some out, twist them and destroy them to see how they handle different pressure. But they still need to figure out if they need to be replaced due to other influences down the line--such as the threat of hydrogen hydrogen embrittlement. That is a public relations and political issue that will need to be dealt with.

Do you open the bridge knowing, and having to explain to the public, that there could still be bolt problems? What image does that puts in commuters' minds? Not to mention that will mean more lane closures in the future while they make the fixes.

It's not great PR to say at the opening celebration, "Oh, by the way, like a lot of big building projects, we still have some work to be done." That is not something you want to say about a bridge that has already cost $6.2 billion, taken 20 years to build, and been fraught with political and practical problems since the beginning.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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