Mistakes were made.
The phrase, a euphemism that shrouds responsibility and evades accountability, surfaced yet again this week when state officials acknowledged the obvious, the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge won't open as scheduled on Labor Day weekend.
“Obviously, mistakes were made,” state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier told reporters after a closed-door briefing on the troubled project.
Indeed they were.
In fairness to DeSaulnier, he wasn't offering an official obfuscation for the broken bolts that are the most recent setback for the bridge. In fact, the Concord Democrat's next sentence was a succinct summary of the project's tortured history.
“When you define it as a $1.1 billion project when they started,” he said, “and it's now a $6.3 billion project, and it's 10 years late and they can't tell us if it's safe, much less how safe it is, that's a failure.”
Indeed it is.
The questions for DeSaulnier and his legislative colleagues, as well as for Gov. Jerry Brown, are whether the safety of motorists who will use the bridge has been assured, and who will be held accountable for these embarrassing — and costly — failures.
On Monday, the state's Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee — which is overseeing the project — issued a 130-page report that said Caltrans and several contractors share responsibility for the almost immediate failure of steel rods and bolts supposed to secure seismic-safety features of the new bridge. More than 2,000 similar high-strength fasteners are used elsewhere on the bridge.
The panel concluded that hydrogen contamination rendered the bolts brittle and faulted Caltrans and consulting engineers for failing to take into account the unique forces on the fasteners and the potential effects of the marine environment.
As a metallurgical expert explained to the Contra Costa Times, project engineers settled for off-the-shelf hardware, “the equivalent of 'going down to Home Depot.'