Letter to Caltrans Director


February 19, 1999

José Medina
California Department of Transportation
1120 N Street, MS-49
Sacramento, California 95814

Dear Director Medina

We are writing to petition you to halt and re-direct the seriously flawed San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge east-span replacement project.

This proposed bridge's inadequacies undermine the public interest. It would be a monumental eyesore, it would fail to meet present and future transportation needs, and its conceptual flaws would endanger lives. The public and its representatives have overwhelmingly expressed dissatisfaction with the proposal approved by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Many have came forward with grave and serious concerns about the project which MTC and Caltrans, in their own public process, have ignored. These concerns have not been addressed by the officially approved proposal, and, due to its essential characteristics it is physically impossible for it to be modified or improved to satisfy them. Thus a new design is called for.

Justifications given for the MTC-approved design were:

1. Seismic safety. The functionally superfluous ''self-anchored'' suspension structure, 14 percent of the span, has been condemned by experts in seismic response, notably Professor Abolhassan Astaneh-Asl of the University of California at Berkeley, and Professor Manabu Ito, University of Tokyo, emeritus, Japan's most eminent bridge engineer. (See Dr. Astaneh's letter.) This conceptual failure is particularly lamentable in that the only purpose served by this appendage to the proposed viaduct is (according to Caltrans officials) an aesthetic "purpose."

2. Alignment. MTC's Engineering and Design Advisory Panel (EDAP) eliminated all options for bridges south of the existing bridge, including a proposal by Caltrans's Project Manager, Brian Maroney, who preferred an efficient, straight southern route. Proposals which were made and retained by EDAP's own members are not suitable for placement on a southern
alignment. In addition to the northern alignment's negative effect on Treasure Island and the Yerba Buena promontory, cited by the City of San Francisco and the U.S. Navy, there is also the more ominous issue of an ancient canyon, the Temescal formation. The Temescal is an ancient underwater canyon on the edge of which the bridge would be perched; geologists think this area is prone to landslides in an earthquake. Confirmation of the nature of the Temescal has forced designers of the bridge to adjust their initially proposed alignment 1,000 feet further south. The DEIS for the project admits serious concern which would be mitigated "in the final design" by unspecified means. (See an excerpt from the DEIS.)

3. Rail accommodation. In November, 1998, voters overwhelmingly approved the four-city rail initiative which advises Caltrans to include passenger rail in the design of the new bridge. The initiative passed by 62 percent in San Francisco, 76 percent in Berkeley, 81 percent in Emeryville and 66 percent in Oakland. Caltrans subsequently refused to consider re-engineering the bridge for heavy rail. The self-anchored suspension structure and other characteristics of the proposal make heavy rail--possible to revive on the western span--not feasible on the new eastern span. A well-designed bridge should easily be able to accommodate all rail options.

4. Bicycle and pedestrian access. Not in the original design criteria, bicycle and pedestrian paths were regarded as "amenities" rather than specified as functional. In fact, the eventual inclusion of a combined pedestrian and bicycle path was a contentious afterthought, as was the case with rail accommodation, and the proposed design is, as a consequence, not structurally appropriate for either. The approved bicycle/pedestrian path is inadequate and hazardous due to proximity to traffic.

5. Aesthetics. Many, particularly the East Bay citizens and elected representatives, have denounced the initially proposed viaduct as a ''freeway on stilts.'' Eighty-six percent of that original viaduct, designed by Caltrans engineers, remains in the present proposal. Its functionally superfluous aesthetic enhancement is on the end toward San Francisco and is in immediate and oppressive proximity to Yerba Buena Island and Treasure Island. This split design is not worthy of the country's premier tourist destination which is also known internationally for its beautiful bridges. The functionally unnecessary suspension structure makes the bridge far more likely to fail catastrophically. Absurdly, key Bay Area media consistently depicted the proposed bridge as consisting of only the 14-percent adornment. Through this deception, and through the MTC/Caltrans process which also focussed almost exclusively on the adornment, the illusion of public acceptance was engineered. The result is Caltrans's original proposal, a concrete viaduct, with an additional and dangerous structure costing needless hundreds of millions of dollars, serving two spurious functions: one, a decoration for the derided viaduct; two, justification for ''contracting out'' to private firms for design. The proposed bridge is ugly because it makes no sense; if built it will be forever held in derision as an example of irrationality and professional incompetence.

6. Fraud. Conceptual designs were solicited by MTC in April 1997, only 12 days before they were due. MTC did not notify participants that some of the jury empaneled to evaluate the proposals (EDAP) were themselves participants in the competition. EDAP proceeded to summarily dismiss all concepts (including those of your own team at Caltrans) not originating from its own members. (See formal complaints, and MTC's response.) Internal dissension among EDAP members, about which of two proposals to recommend, eventually delayed the type selection process for more than a year. It also prompted the writing of an RFQ (request for qualifications) by Caltrans in which EDAP's competing concepts--now backed by two consortia of firms with several representatives on EDAP--would be underwritten at public expense for further evaluation. The selected proposal was given EDAP's approval by only 12 of its 36 members, with half of the panel absent.

Contracting out, including all of the state's contracts with private firms for design and engineering in the seismic retrofit program, has been declared illegal and was stopped by court order. This project, however-one of the most corrupt but also one of the most potentially
lucrative-was the sole survivor as part of a settlement with the union representing state-employed Caltrans engineers. (See an explanation of contracting out.)

Finally, we wish to emphasize that the present proposal would create a replacement bridge with the same flaw which caused the original bridge's failure during the Loma Prieta event. The proposed bridge, like the original, consists of two bridge types, having distinct seismic
behaviors, attached at a critical hinge. It would be tragic to validate its approval by a self-interested panel which, as the record shows, hardly touched upon matters of seismic safety.

We propose an open, international competition for a bridge design, as called for by the Mayor of Oakland and the Mayor of San Francisco. The winning design, judged to be sound conceptually, would be engineered and built under the direction of Caltrans. This process will not set the project back. Geological, alignment and planning data gathered thus far are necessary in any case. And a competition, rigorously conducted according to established international guidelines (UNESCO/Union Internationale des Architectes), would take six months. A competition thus organized, inspiring in itself, is the most likely way to produce a timeless masterpiece which reflects the best thinking and spirit of our age, just as our famous 1930s bridges did in their time.

Rick Feher

Daniel Coman

Dianne Feinstein, U.S. Senator
Barbara Boxer, U.S. Senator
Nancy Pelosi, M.C.
George Miller, M.C.
Ellen Tauscher, M.C.
Willie Brown, Mayor of San Francisco
Jerry Brown, Mayor of Oakland


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