Saturday, January 24, 2015

The budget-busting Bay Bridge eastern span

If the San Francisco Chronicle published more pieces like Jason Van Derbeken's story of how the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge came to be, I'd seriously consider a subscription.

Van Derbeken paints the decision-making process as being driven by starry-eyed fantasists who didn't understand the challenges they were inviting by adopting an experimental design. The design's defenders, meanwhile, blame Caltrans for mismanaging the construction. Whatever the truth, the cost exploded from the original estimate of $780 million to $6.416 billion (the current estimate per a Caltrans FAQ dated 2014).

Maybe a hundred years from now, people will love the eastern span as much as they love the Golden Gate Bridge, and will marvel at our foresight in deciding to go big and bold. Maybe. At the moment, though, it feels like we paid too much for aesthetics. The new span is less dreary than the old one, but the new tower doesn't inspire awe like the suspension towers on either the western span or the Golden Gate. And then there are the flaws we keep finding: brittle bolts, rust, leaks (undoubtedly contributing to the rust), and on and on. Although construction is complete, we still don't know the final cost because we keep having to evaluate new problems.

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