Bay Bridge Plan to Prevent Cracks Smart -- But Expensive

Categories: Transportation
A cracked eyebar -- and botched repair -- shut down the Bay Bridge last year
One of the Bay Area's foremost experts on bridges tells SF Weekly that the plan to stave off cracks on the eastern span of the Bay Bridge is both smart and prudent -- but he has nothing to say about its million-dollar price tag.

The Bay Area Toll Authority yesterday voted to award engineering firm T.Y. Lin International a $1 million contract to design a system of dampers to mitigate the pounding of wind and traffic on the 73-year-old bridge. The firm will also design a device to repair a cracked eyebar that could be rapidly fabricated if needed. "It's not a bad idea to figure out how to damp vibrations and find some way to make repairs in a hurry," engineer Mark Ketchum told us. "As for the $1 million -- I have no idea about that."

Last year, a cracked eyebar necessitated a quasi-improvised fix. That installation ruptured weeks later, resulting in another fix and a nearly weeklong closure.

If you divide a million bucks by a standard engineering rate of $150 an hour, it comes out to 6,667 man-hours for this job. While T.Y. Lin International is tasked with designing a series of dampers for the bridge, Ketchum notes that there are many types of dampers already extant and doubted a completely new device would have to be designed from scratch.

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The Bay Area Toll Authority is willing to pay $1 million to ensure this never happens again
In any event, $1 million isn't nothing, but it's a lot less than the costs associated with an unforeseen bridge closure.

"When they fixed it in a hurry and it broke a month later, the reason they said it broke was they had to fix it in a hurry," says Ketchum. "So it's not a bad idea when you have a known problem to have a way to deal with it in-hand rather than burn the midnight oil."

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