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Report: Governor's Bay Bridge plan could end up costing more

January 24, 2005 Reposted from the San Jose Mercury News
  By Steve Lawrence, Associated Press

SACRAMENTO - Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's attempt to save money by replacing the eastern span of the Bay Bridge with a towerless concrete skyway could end up costing more than the suspension bridge favored by local leaders, the legislative analyst said Monday.

The analyst, the Legislature's adviser on budget matters, said the skyway could run into design and environmental problems that would add to its current estimated construction costs, which range from $800 million to $1.7 billion.

The suspension bridge would be more complicated than the skyway and would cost $1.2 billion to $2.1 billion to build, according to current projections. But it has already passed environmental reviews and wouldn't face local opposition that could hold up the skyway, the analyst said.

Ultimate costs are likely to be higher than those figures no matter which bridge design is chosen, the analyst added, in part because they don't include costs the Department of Transportation would run up in overseeing the project.

"The Legislature faces a choice between an existing Bay Bridge (suspension) design that is known to be expensive and complicated to construct, but that has already completed the difficult design and environmental processes, and a redesign that initially has the potential to save money but that could end up taking longer and costing more due to risks in the environmental and design phases," the report said.

For example, the analyst said, the skyway could draw opposition from the Coast Guard by narrowing the channel for ships traveling east of Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco Bay.

A spokesman for the governor's Business, Transportation and Housing Agency, Patrick Dorinson, suggested the risk of higher costs would be greater if the state sticks with the suspension bridge design.

"If we can come to consensus quickly with the Legislature and the people of the Bay Area, we could move this project ahead more rapidly and get a safe bridge at a lower cost," he said.

But Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, said the administration's position was in conflict with other reports and experts.

"The burden falls to them to explain why the bridge would be designed one way and now in the middle of it they literally want to turn it around and design it another way," he said.

He suggested the Department of Transportation's management of the bridge project had been an "unmitigated disaster" and that the department needed to be overhauled.

Schwarzenegger proposed the skyway after the department reported last August that the cost of making the state's toll bridges earthquake resistant had increased by $3.2 billion, mostly because of higher projected costs for the Bay Bridge.

Other projects still awaiting work in the seismic-safety project are the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, which is 80 percent done, and the San Francisco approach to the Bay Bridge.

A report last month by the Bureau of State Audits said the department hadn't followed generally accepted cost-management practices in overseeing the Bay Bridge project and hadn't reported cost overruns to lawmakers as required.

Sunne McPeak, Schwarzenegger's secretary of business, transportation and housing, told the Joint Legislative Audit Committee on Monday that the administration was committed to improving management practices in the department.

But she blamed the cost increases on higher-than-anticipated bids for construction work and "the complexity" of the suspension bridge plan.

The suspension bridge would make up only 18 percent of the new eastern span, she said. The rest would be a skyway.

It would take new legislation to change the design of a new eastern span to remove the suspension portion and make it all a skyway. The analyst also looked at a third option, a cable-stayed bridge.

The analyst recommended that lawmakers settle on a combination of state funds and bridge tolls to complete the work, and said the state share could come by raising fuel taxes, selling bonds or using money that would go for other transportation projects.

Schwarzenegger has proposed paying the entire $3.2 billion with toll revenue.


On the Net: www.lao.ca.gov and www.bsa.ca.gov

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