Author: John Blisss, P.E.
Those of us who work in the area of public finance too often sit on the sidelines when it comes to supporting the use of the funds we help generate. Following is a reprinting of an opinion piece written by SCI Vice President John Bliss, P.E. and published in the Oakland Tribune on June 11, 2013.
Enough of the self-satisfied, ill-informed commentary from non-experts regarding recent issues with the stunningly beautiful, structurally rigorous new east span of the Bay Bridge. While responsible criticism is important, the current irresponsible discourse erodes and undermines the credibility of our institutions, and may permanently damage the belief in this magnificent new structure. This bridge promises to be a world famous visual icon, tantamount with our other local signature structures: the Golden Gate Bridge and Transamerica Tower. Wait until the old bridge is removed from our direct view, and this elegant yet tough beauty truly debuts in all her grandeur.
All major projects, infrastructure and otherwise, and especially a bridge as complex as this one, require correction and modifications during the construction process. The Golden Gate Bridge did. The Hoover Dam did. Caution is advised when commenting on the specifics in this case, because there has been some contradictory public discussion. What is known, is that some of the world’s best and brightest engineers and construction professionals, from both the private and public sectors, are working to address any and all concerns. Remember that the Bay Area is a mecca for Civil Engineering and the University of California at Berkeley is indisputably the world’s top Civil Engineering university. We are good at this.
Moreover, mature and well-proven regulatory processes are in place to design, construct, inspect and assure quality for all our infrastructure. These processes worked in this case. Additionally, all large bridges have built-in redundancies and safety factors. This amazing bridge will open soon and it will meet or exceed all structural requirements.
The new east span of the Bay Bridge is the world’s longest-span self-anchored suspension bridge. Many factors (span length, local geography and topography, type and strength of foundation soils, aesthetics, etc.) are considered when designing a bridge. Engineers made the right decision when selecting this bridge type for this challenging site. Similar bridges exist in Japan (Konohana) and Korean (Yeongjong) and have performed flawlessly for 20 years. Moreover, there are three long self-anchored suspension bridges in downtown Pittsburgh built in the 1920s, that still serve that city today.
We in the Bay Area are renowned for our creativity, our leadership in technology, and our eagerness to move forward. This bridge exemplifies all of these strengths. And let’s not forget that that CALTRANS originally proposed a conservative, although arguably bland, simple viaduct structure to replace the existing bridge. We rejected that and are much better off for it. Although there are no guarantees in seismic engineering, because temblors are inherently random, computer modeling and analysis has become so sophisticated that we have a truly remarkable understanding of the predicted performance of large structures in seismic events.
Let’s celebrate the amazing infrastructure renaissance in the Bay Area unseen since the 1930s: the new Bay Bridge, the new Carquinez Straits Bridge and new Benicia Bridge, the 4th bore of the Caldecott, significant seismic strengthening of the Golden Gate Bridge, BART to the Oakland International Airport, and BART to San Jose . Stop the feeding frenzy of negativism. Remember, our large infrastructure does not only serve its pedestrian purposes. It must inspire us. It is who we are. It is our mark on the world and it is certainly how we will be remembered.