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The Top Eight Problems With the Bay Bridge, Ranked

Snapped bolts, leaks, and delays. What's gone wrong so far.

The new span of the Bay Bridge has not fallen down. It hasn't even threatened to fall down. So, in that sense, it is a success. But in another, more alarming way, everything about the bridge is a failure. Cost overruns, shoddy construction materials, and naming controversies have marred the span. Here are the top eight problems with the bridge, ranked from least bad to worst:

8. Late Opening
Problem: The eastern span of the Bay Bridge was unveiled on September 2, 2013: five hours early—and a decade late. Engineers called for a new span of the bridge to be built in the 1990s after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Construction qualms and political contentions held up progress for years.
Solution: "None of us should ever forget that the new east span is first and foremost a seismic safety project," Steve Heminger, executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission said. "And that it is being finished before the next big earthquake."
Richter scale: 1.2

7. Chinese steel
Problem: More than two dozen giant steel modules traveled 6,500 miles from Shanghai, China to Oakland for the assembly of the Bay Bridge. Much of the bridge decks and materials were constructed in China, upsetting American steelworker unions due to the outsourced labor and what they claimed was poor-quality Chinese steel.
Solution: It's a little too late for this one.
Richter scale: 1.3

6. Huge Bonuses
Problem: Nearly $49 million in bonuses was bestowed on the American Bridge/Fluor Enterprises, the primary contractor on the new Bay Bridge.
Solution: Can't we get Willie Brown to make up the difference?
Richter scale: 1.9

5. Cost Overruns
Problem: The original estimate for the span's price tag? $1.3 billion. The latest best estimate? Six billion. That's starting to be real money.
Solution: Tax and spend. Tax and spend.
Richter scale: 2.4

4. Leaks
Problem: The supposed watertight structure now has rainwater leaking into the steel structure beneath the road deck on the suspension part of the bridge. Although the water is only slowly dripping into the bridge's underbelly now, it could make the structure prone to corrosion and weaken it. The bridge was designed to last 150 years.
Solution: One potential fix for the leaky bridge involves filling a channel between the roadway and the steel guardrails with clay mixed with asphalt.
Richter scale: 3.0

3. Bolts Snapping
Problem: When constructing the Bay Bridge,Caltrans used more than 1,200 bolts that are at risk of cracking. At least 32 of these threaded rods snapped during construction in March of 2013.
Solution: Caltrans spent an additional $25 million to fix the broken bolts by covering them with an exterior saddle and cable system that is coated with concrete.
Richter scale: 3.7

2. Naming the bridge after Mayor Willie Brown
Problem: The western span of the Bay Bridge is officially named the Willie L. Brown, Jr. Bridge after the former San Francisco mayor and State Assembly speaker.
Solution: Well, it's only half of the bridge. That means it's twice as easy to ignore, right?
Richter scale: 5.3

1. Not naming the bridge after Emperor Norton
Problem: An effort to bring the Bay Area back to its eccentric roots failed when the Bay Bridge was not named after the original San Francisco crazy person Emperor Norton, the self-proclaimed "Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico." Among the visionary goals of his glorious reign? A call for a bridge and a tunnel to cross the bay from Oakland to San Francisco.
Solution: A Change.com petition to rename the bridge in honor of Norton has 4,603 signatures and will soon be sent to legislators. We can still dream the impossible dream.
Richter scale: 6.9



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