Bay Bridge Leaks Raise Safety Concerns

Bay Bridge

Just over five months ago, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge opened a new eastern section and following multiple days of steady rain in the first winter storm of the season, the new Bay Bridge has sprung hundreds of leaks raising safety concerns.

The leaks are occurring in an area that is supposed to be watertight, underneath the road level rainwater is entering into the steel structure, which is located on the portion that is suspended.

There has already been structural concern in the East span with faulty welds that were rebuilt and cracked steel rods that had to be reinforced. Caltrans officials said that they believe the leaks to be a manageable maintenance issue that was not unforeseen. Also, Caltrans does not believe that there has been any permanent damage caused to the $6.4 billion span, but the San Francisco Chronicle reported that an expert saw “active corrosion” in the pictures of the bridge.

Today in a news conference, Caltrans officials announced that the bridge is secure and leaks on the bridge pose no risk to the drivers crossing it. Caltrans’ Chief Deputy Director Richard Land assured that they are very serious about tackling the issue. He added that if the leaks were not given attention that it could be a problem. If corrosion occurs it can weaken the structure of the bridge, which would create a hindrance in the bridge lasting its estimated 150 years said Berkeley metallurgist Lisa Thomas.

With the Bay Bridge leaks raising safety concerns, spokesman for Caltrans Andrew Gordon said that long-term problems would only arise if they ignored the current issue and they are “on top of it.”

Currently, Caltrans officials are not sure of the exact cause of the leaks, but that it could be due to rainwater running along electrical conduits and leaching through the bolts that secure guard rails. Another theory officials said is that the water blown sideways by wind is eluding the drainage systems.

The water intrusion appears to be minimized to drips and Land said that there are no locations where water is actively running. Officials said they first noticed the leaks in early December rainstorms, but that they needed a storm of bigger proportions to evaluate the problem.

Land said that they expect issues as a new project settles in and asserted that it is neither a “design issue” nor a “construction issue.” Land expects an expert and engineering team to find the cause of the problem within a few weeks.

Caltrans reassurances did not convince experts who were shown pictures by The Chronicle of the steel where the water was entering with brown-colored sludge and chalky white residue. Berkeley metallurgist Lisa Thomas told The Chronicle that this is something that should not be seen on steel. Corrosion expert, John Scully, from the University of Virginia added that if the water intrusion cannot fully be stopped that the Bay Bridge would be put in “the high maintenance category” regarding long-term issues.

Caltrans officials said that they have not found all the entry points for the water yet, but that they believe the Bay Bridge leaks that are raising safety concerns to be a “manageable problem.”

By Rebecca Hofland

The San Francisco Chronicle
The San Francisco Chronicle
San Jose Mercury News
Bay Bridge Info.Org

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