Second letter to Caltrans director


April 6, 1999

José Medina
California Department of Transportation
1120 N Street, MS-49
Sacramento, California 95814

Dear Mr. Medina

We have received a letter from Mr. Yahata (attached is a copy) as a response to our letter to you, in which we advised you of serious concerns about the design of the replacement east span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Mr. Yahata's letter continues a pattern of superficiality, disingenuous misrepresentation and falsehood which have characterized this process since its inception in April of 1997.

Our allegations are not opinions with which MTC, Caltrans or experts can disagree, but matters of fact:

(1) Fraud. Despite the objective and intent of Caltrans, the design selection process is incorrectly described as "fair, open and public" because the Engineering and Design Advisory Panel (EDAP) summarily dismissed all proposals not directly associated with its own membership. This conflict of interest, and our provable allegation of fraud, were specifically not addressed by Mr. Yahata's letter. The conflict of interest of EDAP members has been defended by the MTC (see Coman Feher/Hein correspondence attached) on the grounds that it was disclosed. We remind you that fraud is not rendered legal simply because it is disclosed. And we emphasize that the EDAP conflict of interest was not disclosed until pre-submittals and submittals had been accepted for evaluation, and not until the second day of formal presentations. This admitted conflict of interest was repeatedly defended publicly by Steve Heminger of MTC staff, who said that it was necessary because the bridge-design community was small and that some conflict of interest was inevitable. There are, in fact, many more hundreds of bridge engineers of note worldwide than the few represented on EDAP. Most members of EDAP are not prominently cited in books on the world's notable bridges as having made any significant contributions, with the possible exception of Professor Manabu Ito and Professor T. Y. Lin, who both denounced the present proposal in the harshest terms.

(2) "Expert technical analysis" of proposals by EDAP consisted of votes of summary dismissal of competing proposals. The panel did not submit any proposals to an "evaluation against a published set of criteria," nor against any criteria whatsoever (see Coman Feher/Hein correspondence, attached). The panel's "own high engineering and aesthetic standards" were, if extant, not applied to the evaluation of any proposals. This is not an opinion, but a fact which is easily demonstrated by the record. EDAP Chair Joseph Nicoletti, when questioned by MTC Bay Bridge Task Force member Tom Hsieh about this issue, answered that no formal evaluation was conducted, and that the panel evaluated proposals informally based upon members' collective experience and wisdom. After more than a year during which EDAP presumably studied two competing designs, Chair Nicoletti stated publicly that his recommendation of one proposal over another was entirely subjective, and that he could not defend his preference in any way.

(3) Seismic Safety. Mr. Yahata observes that "Caltrans and EDAP experts, however, disagree" that the approved SFOBB east span replacement design contains the same flaw that caused a portion of the existing east span to collapse during the Loma Prieta earthquake. We stated that the proposed design joins, as does the existing bridge, two dissimilar structural types. There can be no disagreement upon this point, as it is a matter of fact. It is also a matter of fact that it is precisely where the two dissimilar structures are joined that the existing bridge broke. Moreover, there is no functional justification for the proposed hybrid design (two dissimilar structures) other than the financial self-interest of private firms and their representative members of EDAP. Throughout the process, project officials of Caltrans stated their unequivocal preference for a non-hybrid design already engineered by the publicly employed staff of Caltrans.

(4) Aesthetics. Mr. Yahata asserts that the present proposal met EDAP's "own high engineering and aesthetics standards." Engineers, geologists and architects comprised EDAP. Engineers, when abiding by their own code of ethics, as promulgated by the ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers), and other professional organizations, do not engage, in an official capacity, in activities for which they are professionally unqualified. The three participating members of EDAP who were architects repeatedly introduced themselves as representing the interests of BCDC (the Bay Conservation and Development Commission). No member of EDAP was appointed as a noted expert in the field of architectural aesthetics, as for instance an architectural curator of a major museum or an architectural critic of a major newspaper or magazine.

(5) Alignment. EDAP's decision about the alignment of the proposed design was a foregone conclusion, because none of the proposals advanced by firms associated with EDAP members, and none of the recommended proposals, could be placed on an alternative southern alignment.

In view of the above, we demand:

(1) That the east span replacement project be halted;

(2) That further elaboration of the recommended proposal be abandoned, due to the hazard to public safety which would be created by the hybrid design, particularly the self-anchored suspension structure which, by the design firm's own claims, is novel and experimental;

(3) That any proposed design given serious consideration be evaluated in concept by comparison with rudimentary seismic design criteria, and thenceforth be analyzed by super-computer simulation and physical scale-model testing;

(4) That any proposal selected to replace the eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge be evaluated according to publicly established criteria for function and form and according to widely accepted procedures such as those recommended by the Union Internationale des Architectes (UIA), which are specifically designed to avoid conflict of interest and to promote honesty.

In closing, we remind you that current problems with Interstate 105, an embarrassment for Caltrans as well as for the Legislature, are a result of bad designs and bad politics. The SFOBB east span replacement project has an even higher potential to embarrass; its potential will only increase while its fundamental flaws remain unaddressed.


Rick Feher

Daniel Coman

Coman Feher Associates

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