EDITORIAL: Caltrans faces corrosion of confidence over Bay Bridge

It appears that Gov. Jerry Brown finally understands the magnitude of legitimate concerns about the safety of the long-delayed eastern span of the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

Though tardy in exhibiting an adult attitude about the project's myriad construction flaws, Brown's shift in position this week should ensure that Caltrans stops trying to cover its posterior and instead makes the bridge's safety its singular focus.

The latest problem is the corrosion of tendons crucial to the structural integrity of the skyway section of the new bridge. The steel tendons are housed in ducts within the concrete segments forming that section of the bridge. Once the tendons were inserted, the ducts were supposed to be filled with grout within 10 days to prevent corrosion. A delay of 30 days was allowed if a rust-inhibiting powder was applied first.

As The Sacramento Bee's Charles Piller reported Sunday, construction delays stalled the grouting in some cases for up to 17 months.

During those long delays, rainwater seeped into ducts, corroding the tendons. An engineering manager for the bridge became alarmed when he spotted gallons of rusty water being pumped from ducts that housed the tendons. In one remarkable incident that Piller documented, a Caltrans inspector used duct tape to temporarily seal vents where rainwater was seeping onto the openings.

None of the dozens of experts contacted for the story think that the tendon corrosion issue alone is likely to cause the collapse of the bridge, even in a large earthquake.

But when combined with other serious problems disclosed previously -- including cracked bolts, defective welds, flawed testing of the bridge tower's concrete foundation -- the latest problem raises more doubts about Caltrans' management of the project.

Originally estimated to cost $1.3 billion, the new span's price tag has zoomed to $6.4 billion. It is years behind schedule and questions about its structural integrity continue to pile up. Those questions must be answered before the bridge is opened.