Letter to US Navy clarifying alignment issue

Since February 24, 1999, the U.S. Navy has declared its opposition to the proposed northern-alignment suspension/viaduct design approved by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), and has backed up its opposition by refusing to allow test drilling on the Navy-controlled areas of Yerba Buena Island. The Navy also stated that it would not grant permission now or in the future for any bridge to reach land north of the existing bridge at Yerba Buena. The following letter clarifies the issue of alignment, which precipitated the Navy/Caltrans standoff.


May 19, 1999

The Honorable Richard Danzig
Secretary of the Navy
Washington, D.C. 20350-1000

Dear Secretary Danzig

We are writing to provide the Navy information which further and significantly justifies its denial of a permit to build a replacement eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge north of the existing bridge and upon the northern part of the eastern peninsula of Yerba Buena Island.

For clarity and brevity, the following agencies, organizations, panels, etc., are sometimes referred to in this letter by acronyms or shortened names:

Caltrans, the California Department of Transportation;
MTC, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (of the San Francisco Bay Area);
EDAP, the Engineering Design Advisory Panel convened by MTC;
The Navy, the United States Navy;
The Coast Guard, the United States Coast Guard;
RFQ, Request for Qualifications (Caltrans's application for "no-bid" contracts).

The proposed northern alignment was fraudulently selected. A southern alignment, preferred by Project Director Dr. Brian Maroney (Caltrans), was not given due consideration because:

(1) Caltrans had already (prior to May, 1997) designed a bridge (viaduct) for a southern alignment which satisfied all criteria but one for the project, including the Coast Guard’s shipping-lane specifications. The criterion not satisfied was public acceptance on aesthetic grounds.

(2) To justify the awarding of state contracts for design and engineering services, the MTC and EDAP fraudulently selected proposals advanced by firms represented on EDAP (for EDAP's own further consideration) which each added variations of a "signature span" structure to Caltrans's already extant design (viaduct). The "signature span" served two purposes only: one, justification for including private engineering firms in the project; two, diversion of design evaluation into a popularity contest between two variants of a viaduct enhancement.

(3) The "signature span" proposals could only be built north of the existing bridge. Adaptation of those proposals to a southern alignment was impossible with the given geometrics, geography, geology, tunnel and shipping lane.

(4) Two proposals for bridges on southern alignments were among those considered by EDAP. Further consideration of those southern-alignment options would have jeopardized the otherwise assured contracts for engineering services by firms represented on EDAP.

As early as June, 1997, EDAP had eliminated proposals for:

At the same time (June, 1997) that EDAP conclusively eliminated the above options from further consideration, the panel resolved that the southern alignment should be studied further, for the following reason: It was revealed, and discussed in a June, 1997 EDAP meeting, that there was a potentially dangerous ice-age canyon under the bay mud to the north of the existing bridge, indicated by preliminary geotechnical analysis. Contrary to its resolve, however, EDAP did not further evaluate options for a southern alignment. Caltrans subsequently issued an RFQ specifying the elaboration of a viaduct-plus-suspension proposal and a viaduct-plus-cable-stayed proposal to "30-percent completion," at which time one was to be selected for further refinement. This enabled two consortia of firms with representatives on EDAP, representing the only two retained proposals, to elaborate, at state expense, both concepts. Those concepts would only work on a northern alignment.

We would add that the selected concept has numerous additional failings, among them: inherent instability of the suspension structure which prompted its condemnation by two eminent experts in the seismic response of bridges; failure to include rail options and bicycle and pedestrian path as essential, thus severely compromising attempts to backwardly engineer these elements into the proposal; numerous rigid, high-mass concrete elements in the viaduct portion; the splicing of two dissimilar structures having distinct seismic behaviors; the inclusion of a suspension structure which serves no function other than the spurious ones outlined above; unnecessary excessive length and curvature which complicates earthquake engineering.

Alignment, and all other criteria for this project, should be established by an honest public procedure, conducted by an entity having no conflict of interest, with the public and the public's interests exclusively represented, as this is a public-works project. Once criteria have been established, a concept should be selected from among entries in an open international design competition, honestly and objectively evaluated against the established criteria. The selected concept should be engineered and project-managed by Caltrans in its capacity as a public agency. Contracts for construction should be awarded according to honest evaluation procedures.


Rick Feher
Daniel Coman

cc: VADM Patricia A. Tracey, USN


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