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Work on bridge detour stopped; Caltrans wants to study temporary connector's design; tower decision could come this week

December 8, 2004 Reposted from the Oakland Tribune
  By Sean Holstege

Amid the second-guessing over the look of the new Bay Bridge, Caltrans has suspended construction on a related job but continues to pay the contractor $900,000 a month for the work.

Caltrans records show the agency halted work on a temporary detour for the new bridge in early October. On Sept. 30, Business, Transportation and Housing Secretary Sunne Wright McPeak announced that Califor nia would revisit the design for the nearby tower on the new bridge.

The detour won't be needed until the new eastern span nears the tunnel on Yerba Buena Island. Originally, the detour -- a temporary, $74 million bridge connecting the tunnel and the existing eastern span -- was to carry traffic for years in advance of a late-2007 opening of the new Bay Bridge. Now, the ear liest the bridge could open is 2012, and sources familiar with the work say Caltrans is considering freezing the entire detour project, not just construction.

While delaying work on the detour doesn't affect the timetable for the entire $5.1 billion bridge, any work stoppage is a highly unusual step for Caltrans.

The pause stems from pressure from former Gov. Gray Davis to open California's biggest public works project while he was in office.

Typically, Caltrans will design a project and pay a contrac tor to build it. But in the case of the bridge detour, Caltrans did 30 percent of the design work and paid Sacramento-based Ibsen and Associates to finish the design and Rancho Cordova firm C.C. Myers Inc. to build it.

Caltrans picked the new approach "to get the safety project finished as soon as possible," a well-placed source said. "It was different than normal contracts," he added. "The contractor can proceed at risk: He can start the foundation before finishing design on the columns on the superstructure."

Sources familiar with the work say that has led to unforeseen complexities, and Caltrans engineers want extra time to get comfortable with the design.

And Caltrans doesn't want people driving on the temporary span more than necessary.

Engineers say the design and location of the detour are unaffected by the imminent decision on what kind of tower Caltrans should build.

"This is not affected by the tower. It won't be affected by any decision whe-

ther it's to build a self-anchored suspension tower, a cable-stayed bridge or a skyway," Caltrans spokesman Bob Haus said.

"Both Caltrans and the contractor wanted to make changes in the design of the detour. Those may affect where the foundation goes," Haus said, saying all that's stopped is work to drive piles on the Oakland side of the island.

In the meantime, Caltrans documents show that the detour work is not 20 percent complete, and the C.C. Myers team has so far been paid $13 million. For the two months when construction stopped, Caltrans paid contractors $901,000 and $969,000.

Work on other Bay Bridge contracts proceeds. The $1.1 billion skyway is now 64 percent complete, and contractor KFM Joint Venture has been paid $702 million to date. Caltrans has also paid KFM $37 million for ongoing work to build the foundation of the tower currently being reconsidered. The foundation is 21 percent complete.

A decision on the tower design is expected by the end of the week.

Contact Sean Holstege at [email protected].

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