Letter to California Governor Gray Davis
March 8, 1999
Honorable Gray Davis
There are moments in history when decisions affecting the lives and fortunes of great numbers of people are left in the hands of a single man. The outcomes of these decisions constitute the landmarks of human civilization.
We submit that such a moment is upon you with the Bay Bridge controversy. Please consider the following:
- No one has claimed nor can claim that the proposed east-span replacement equals in any way the 63-year-old icons, the Golden Gate Bridge and the western spans of the Bay Bridge. That is because the proposed design is vastly inferior in terms of safety, functionality and beauty, when compared to those famous bridges.
- Approval of this proposal will send a message to our youth that competence, vision, daring and educationwhich you so rightly emphasized as being crucial to the future of Californiaare worthless when compared to the rewards of political manipulation, the power of old boy networks, and fraud.
- Despite 63 years of accumulated progress in engineering science since the building of the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge, we are now told we must expedite the building of a new bridge which will be, incredibly, more catastrophically inclined than the one it is intended to replace. One of the world's most eminent experts in structural seismic integrity, Professor Manabu Ito of Tokyo University, condemned the design at the Structural Engineering World Congress in San Francisco in July, 1998. And there is a growing list of engineers who concur.
We fully understand the various political pressures now bearing upon you concerning this crucial project. Therefore we propose a solution based upon the following facts:
- Fraud and other abuses in the design selection process have led unavoidably to major flaws in the design itself. This sad situation has produced a growing stack of documentation including: our letters to the MTC Task Force in May of 1997, website postings (www.oaklandbridge.com), op-ed pieces in the San Francisco Chronicle by Jerry Brown (June, 1998) and Coman Feher (February, 1999), articles by Ronna Abramson in the Oakland Tribune (June, 1998), Dan Zoll in the San Francisco Bay Guardian (July, 1998), Dashka Slater in the East Bay Express (March, 1999) and a great number of protests from citizens at official meetings which have gone unreported and undocumented by the MTC. These are sufficient to cast serious doubt upon the integrity of the project.
- Professor Abolhassan Astsaneh of the University of California, Berkeley, pleaded with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission's Bay Bridge Task Force not to approve the design, as his independent analysisindependent of the designers' own analysisrevealed multiple critical flaws at the 30% and 50% design stages, and a high probability of catastrophic failure.
- The Tacoma Narrows bridge, designed by Bay Bridge chief engineer Leon Moisseiff, failed shortly after completion, despite the persistent warnings of T. L. Condron, an expert in bridge aerodynamics, who was ignored. Only four months after completion in November of 1940, in a moderate storm, the bridge collapsed, proving that safety is not ensured by a majority opinion.
- The space shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986 after political pressure was exerted for the launch to adhere to schedule, despite the pleadings of a few engineers who did not represent the interests of the designers and fabricators of the failed rocket parts.
- The one-and-a-half mile long Zhaobao Mountain Bridge in China, which was scheduled to open last October, is being dismantled due to design flaws and bad workmanship stemming from corruption. Cost overruns and completion date are now inestimable. Elsewhere in China, two recently constructed bridges collapsed in January, killing 47 people. Premier Zhu Rongji, quoted in the Los Angeles Times (March 1, 1999), called for an end to the corruption and punishment of all who were complicit in these transportation disasters. "Otherwise we shall become people condemned by history," Zhu warned.
- Several members of MTC's Engineering Design Advisory Paneleven among the half which still dares to attend meetingshave stated privately that they now wish the design had never been approved. We will gladly identify those members.
Any rational solution should include assurance that the present east span will not likely collapse. Caltrans has supervised some of the most urgent seismic repairs, and a more thorough interim retrofit of the existing east span superstructure should be expedited. Caltrans has determined that the timber piles and pile caps of the existing east span are not repairable to current safety standards, and that replacement of the span is the safest and most cost-effective permanent solution.
The time-tested solution to this situation is to call upon the wealth of talent worldwide which awaits the opportunity and challenge. A six-month open international competition for bridge design concepts will not delay the construction of a more permanent bridge, but will expedite it.
- The late President of France, François Mitterand, will be remembered for the grand projects he supervised in Paris which stand alongside those of his royal predecessors. They will be remembered for centuries as achievements of his people's culture. All were the result of international design competitions.
- Open competitions for major bridges around the world have typically resulted in state-of-the-art designs: the Millau viaduct in southern France, and the Tyneside Millennium Bridge in Britain are just two examples. Major competitions have often been conducted within six months. The world is full of talent, but that talent must be given an honest chance to be heard and seen.
- Just as Paris is Europe's number-one tourist destination, our own San Francisco Bay Area is the number one tourist destination in the U.S. We have an opportunity to make a world-class bridge in a place where the world will look to see what standard has been set.
A competition announces to the world that California will share an opportunity to assess experience acquired in this century and apply it to a bridge which will span the millennium. Future generations will discover either that we lacked vision and confidence toward the end of this century, or else they will be inspired by the way we gracefully combined our growing awareness of nature's limits with our own limitless imaginations.
Coman Feher Associates
Attachments: San Francisco Chronicle op-ed piece by Jerry Brown (June 22, 1998); Chronicle editorial (June 22, 1998); Chronicle feature story by Allan Temko (June 23, 1998); two letters from Dr. Astaneh to the MTC Bay Bridge Task Force; letter from Coman and Feher to José Medina, Director, Caltrans; Chronicle op-ed piece by Coman and Feher (February 23, 1999); international competition advertisement.
cc: Garry South
For additional information on the east span replacement project, see www.oaklandbridge.com
cc: Dianne Feinstein, U.S. Senator
Barbara Boxer, U.S. Senator
Nancy Pelosi, M.C.
George Miller, M.C.
Ellen Tauscher, M.C.
Willie Brown, Mayor of San Francisco
Jerry Brown, Mayor of Oakland