Engineers Found ‘Hundreds’ of Cracks in California Bridge

Engineers spotted “hundreds” of cracks in welds on parts produced for the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in 2008 and were encouraged to stay quiet rather than delay the $6.4 billion project, according to a California Senate committee report.

James Merrill, then a senior engineer with a quality assurance company known as Mactec, told Senate investigators that his complaints about work done at Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industry Co. Ltd., known as ZPMC, were rebuffed by managers of the California Department of Transportation as “too rigorous,” according to the report released yesterday.

A new eastern span of the Bay Bridge, the state’s busiest structure, carrying Interstate 80 between San Francisco and Oakland, opened in September. The replacement of the section damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake was more than six years behind schedule and almost $5 billion over budget. The most recent delay occurred in March 2013 when 32 steel anchor bolts fractured as they were tightened.

Attempts to contact Shanghai Zhenhua, based in Shanghai, by telephone and e-mail were unsuccessful.

“This is the first time in my career the engineering wasn’t allowed to be done right,” said Douglas Coe, a former civil engineer for the California Department of Transportation, known as Caltrans, according to the report. “Engineering decisions were made by non-engineers.”

Merrill and Coe said they don’t think the bridge is unsafe, according to the report, though they suggested that the structure may require retrofitting throughout its life and may last less than the 150 years state officials projected.

Andrew Gordon, a spokesman for the Bay Area Toll Authority, the financing agency for the Oakland-based Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Caltrans, declined to comment on the findings.

“The report just came out and the toll bridge program oversight committee is still reviewing it,” Gordon said by telephone.

The state Senate Transportation and Housing Committee plans to discuss the report’s findings tomorrow.

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