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Governor balks at Bay Bridge overruns; He says Bay Area alone should pay the extra $2.3 billion

August 17, 2004 Reposted from the San Francisco Chronicle
  By Michael Cabanatuan, Lynda Gledhill


Sacramento -- Clarification: The following story mischaracterized a comment by the governor's spokesman, Rob Stutzman. The story should have said that Stutzman said the situation that led to the cost overruns was unfair to the people of the Bay Area.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office said Monday that the Bay Area is to blame for the massive cost overruns on the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge and that its residents should foot the $2.3 billion bill themselves.

A plan released by the governor at a Capitol press briefing to cover the overruns does not include any state money, even though the bridge is part of the federal interstate highway system and the project is being overseen by the state Department of Transportation.

Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch, called the administration's proposal "outrageous" and "blatantly unfair."

Randy Rentschler, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Bay Area's regional transportation planning and financing agency, said the governor's plan could mean an increase in tolls on the Bay Area's seven state-owned bridges to as much as $5.

Rob Stutzman, the governor's chief spokesman, said the administration will ask the Legislature to:

-- Place a measure on the Nov. 2 ballot asking Bay Area voters to redirect the $1 toll increase they approved with Regional Measure 2 in March from transit improvements to the Bay Bridge project.

-- Transfer responsibility for the new bridge and the rest of the toll-bridge seismic retrofitting program from Caltrans to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

"If the Bay Area wants it,'' Stutzman said, "the Bay Area will have to pay for it.''

Bay Area legislators and transportation leaders blasted the governor's plan, which they said was assembled without talking to them and sprung on them without warning.

Torlakson said the state should not expect the Bay Area to pick up the tab on a state project.

"The residents of the Bay Area should expect the state would be a partner like it has been" on previous projects in the region and elsewhere in the state, he said.

Sen. Don Perata, D-Oakland, who authored Measure 2, said voters would lose faith if revenue from the toll increase they approved on March 2 were redirected.

The measure, which voters in five Bay Area counties approved overwhelmingly in March, raised tolls to $3 beginning July 1 to pay for dozens of transportation improvements ranging from the seismic strengthening of BART's Transbay Tube to the launching of new ferry and express bus service.

Torlakson said Bay Area residents decided to raise the toll to support other transportation projects, not the cost of the Bay Bridge retrofit.

"The people of the Bay Area should be praised, not punished, for voting to invest more money in transportation solutions for the area," he said.

The state has always chipped in when there has been a statewide disaster, such as fires or earthquakes, both senators said.

"The argument that we bear the costs by ourselves is ludicrous. It is not keeping with tradition or history," Torlakson said. "The next time there is an earthquake in San Diego, are we going to say they should take care of rebuilding all by themselves?"

Perata said some Southern California lawmakers would be happy to make the bridge the Bay Area's problem.

"And, of course, the governor (is) saying it's a regional problem,'' Perata said. "This could very easily turn into a sectional fight. We have never once said this is Northern California water and you will have to pay more for it."

Steve Kinsey, chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, said the governor "is completely abandoning the Bay Area'' with his plan.

"It's a gutless move to propose this,'' he said. "A gutless move from a very strong, powerful guy.''

Stutzman said the Bay Bridge cost overruns are "yet another problem the governor inherited ... just like the deficit we inherited and the prisons problem we inherited.'' He blamed the overruns on the Bay Area's political bickering over the design and alignment of the new span and its decision to build a landmark bridge that will feature a single-tower suspension bridge rather than a plain, utilitarian concrete span.

"The governor's office is full of baloney on that,'' said state Sen. President Pro Tem John Burton, D-San Francisco, of allegations that the Bay Area is responsible for costly delays.

Burton pronounced the governor's proposal dead.

"It isn't going to pass,'' he said. "They don't have the votes.''

With the Legislature scheduled to recess at the end of the month, little time remains for a Northern California-Southern California battle or to find a solution. Failure to come up with a financing plan could further delay construction of the bridge, scheduled to open in 2011.

Delays and cost overruns have bedeviled the project. After Bay Area politicians bickered and then finally approved a design for the new bridge, the cost was estimated at $1.3 billion. In spring 2001, Caltrans acknowledged that the cost had risen to $2.6 billion because of bad estimates and escalating costs during the design-caused delays.

Caltrans was thrown off guard again in May when the lone bid for the 1,600-foot, single-tower suspension section of the new bridge came in way over budget.

The new eastern segment of the Bay Bridge is really two bridges -- nearly two miles of twin concrete viaducts reaching west from Oakland and the single-tower suspension span connecting to Yerba Buena Island. Designers envisioned it as a sleek, white line hovering above the bay and sweeping to a graceful peak.

A joint venture of American Bridge, Nippon Steel Bridge and Fluor Corp. submitted a bid in May of $1.8 billion using domestic steel -- $1.4 billion if foreign steel is allowed. The bids far exceeded Caltrans' estimate of $740 million.

The lack of a funding plan could force Caltrans, or the transportation commission if it is assigned responsibility for the project, to reject the lone bid for the single-tower suspension section of the new bridge.

Caltrans studied the bid for 90 days and then requested and received a two-month extension that expires on Sept. 30. State law prohibits Caltrans from accepting bids when it doesn't have the money on hand to cover the full cost of the bid. Even if the governor's plan were to be approved, there would still be a gap of more than a month between the date the bids expire and the November election, and Caltrans would not have the money.

Sunne McPeak, Secretary of Business, Transportation and Housing, the agency that oversees Caltrans, said the administration favors accepting the bid for the single-tower span and completing the bridge but believes the Bay Area -- and the transportation commission -- should figure out how to pay for the work.

"We're giving the Bay Area the choice on how to complete this project,'' she said.

If the region chooses not to divert the Measure 2 money, she said, the commission could divert already allotted state funds for other projects to the bridge.

McPeak said the estimated cost of retrofitting or replacing seven state toll bridges, including five in the Bay Area, climbed from $2.6 billion in 1997 to $5.1 billion in 2001 to $7.4 billion (not including a $900 million contingency for future overruns) today.

The bulk of those increases -- all but $286 million -- were on the new eastern span, she said. And the selection of the single-tower suspension bridge, she said, is responsible for 53 percent of the eastern span overruns. The rest are attributable to increases in the costs of steel, cement, bonding and insurance, and consolidation in the bridge construction industry.

The governor does not need legislative approval for the final part of his plan -- a comprehensive audit of the troubled bridge project.

"There's no question (the governor's plan) is unfair to the people of the Bay Area,'' Stutzman said. "Hopefully the audits will point to who's to blame. ''

Schwarzenegger's plan for bridge costs

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger offered a three-point plan Monday that would hand Bay Area taxpayers sole responsibility for meeting an estimated $2.3 billion in cost overruns to complete the Bay Bridge project. Under the plan the governor would:

-- Appoint an independent auditor to find out why it has taken 15 years to complete the seismic retrofit, which includes constructing a new eastern span.

-- Ask the Legislature to place a measure on the Nov. 2 ballot asking Bay Area voters to redirect the $1 toll increase approved in March for new projects to help cover the bridge overruns.

-- Ask the Legislature to transfer responsibility for the retrofit project to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.


Under the governor’s plan, the $125 million per year voters in March agreed to raise for a variety of regional transportation projects through increased bridge tolls would be directed exclusively to the Bay Bridge retrofit project..The following is a partial list of projects that would lose Measure 2 funding:

Figures measured in millions of dollars

Projects Construction Funds Annual Operating Funds
1. Transbay Terminal and downtown Caltrain extension in San Francisco $150  
2. BART Transbay Tube seismic strengthening 143  
3. Commuter rail service over Dumbarton rail bridge 135 $5.5
4. I-680/I-80/Highway 12 interchange improvements in Solano County 100
5. BART extension from Pittsburg/Baypoint station east to Byron 96  
6. BART extension to Warm Springs 95  
7. Improvements to ferry system, spare vessels 84  
8. AC Transit enhanced bus service (International Blvd./Telegraph Ave. corridor) 65 3.0
9. I-580 rapid transit corridor improvements in Dublin, Pleasanton, Livermore 65  
10. Interchange improvement at U.S. 101and Larkspur ferry 65  

Source: Metropolitan Transportation Commission

E-mail the writers at [email protected] and [email protected].



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