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10/30/2019 Expert believes SF transit center cracks a limited problem, not design flaw - SFChronicle.

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LOCAL // MATIER AND ROSS

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Expert believes SF transit center cracks a limited
problem, not design flaw
Matier & Ross
Nov. ,  Updated: Nov. ,   a.m.

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The investigation into the pair of cracked girders that forced the closure of San
Francisco’s newly inaugurated, $2.2 billion Transbay Transit Center in late September is

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now focused on the composition of the steel and cuts or other rough spots that may have
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put stress on the beams.

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But the building’s overall design does not appear to be an issue, according to a top expert
called in to review the work.

That’s good news for the troubled transit hub. A design flaw might have meant the beams
couldn’t support the weight of the building’s bus deck and three-block-long roof garden,
and required a major redesign that could have shuttered the center indefinitely.

“There is zero evidence of that being the problem,” said Mike Engelhardt, a structural
engineering professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “It seems to be a very fine
design.”

Engelhardt chairs the five-member peer review panel hired by the Metropolitan
Transportation Commission to look over the shoulder of the Transit Center’s own team
of experts, which is analyzing the reason for the cracks.

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Hydraulic jacks help support the Salesforce Transit Center’s Fremont Street rooftop park in early October after cracks
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were discovered in late September in two -foot-long steel I-beams.
Photo: Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle
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In late September, just six weeks after the transit hub opened, workers detected the
cracks on the ends of a pair of 85-foot-long I-beams that support the terminal where it
passes over Fremont Street. No fissures, however, were found in a nearly identical pair of
girders that cross over First Street.

Troubled transit center

LOCAL LOCAL LOCAL

BY RACHEL SWAN BY RACHEL SWAN BY MICHA


More trouble for Transbay as city Contractor sues Transbay center Officia
halts funds, steel testing... authority for $150M, claiming... date fo

The transbay center’s problems are reminiscent of the broken bolts that turned up on the
new $6.2 billion eastern span of the Bay Bridge. Experts scrambled to determine whether
there was an underlying design flaw before concluding that designers had relied on “off-
the-shelf” galvanized bolts that were too brittle for the job — a problem only made worse
when they were exposed to seawater and other elements.

While Engelhardt said it’s too early to draw conclusions, he described the cracks as
“brittle fractures” typically caused by either bad steel, a rough spot or other welding
defect, combined with high stress levels in the affected area.

He likened the beam problem to a piece of glass with a line etched in it that snaps more
easily when under stress.

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Chunks of steel — some weighing several hundred pounds — have been removed from
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the two suspect beams and either flown or driven to a testing lab in New York for
analysis.
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two or three weeks.
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There is also some focus on the 4-inch-by-2 inch-weld access holes — designed to make it
easier for workers to access tight welding spots — that were cut into the 4-inch-thick
steel at the foot of the I-beams.

The rectangular shape of the cuts themselves appears to be of particular concern.

Memos among the steel supplier, fabricator and project inspectors dating to 2015 appear
to flag the weld holes as a source of confusion and possible concern during the
fabrication process. The holes were not included in the original design specifications, but
were added by the fabricator after the beams were manufactured.

In all, there are eight weld access holes — one notched into each end of the two girders
spanning Fremont Street, as well as the two girders over First Street.

However, one engineering expert with firsthand knowledge of the review, but who wasn’t
authorized to speak for the record, said a close visual inspection showed no evidence of
“any fabrication or workmanship issues” involving the weld access holes. In other words,
the cuts might not have triggered the cracking, but they still could have weakened the
beams and made the problem worse.

Mark Zabaneh, executive director of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, which built
and oversees the center, was cautious not to point a finger in any direction just yet.

“It would not be responsible to speculate about a cause without a thorough review and
results of comprehensive testing of the steel beams,” he said, saying the focus at this
point is on examining the steel and the welds.

“I can’t rule out anything at this point,” Zabaneh said. “But testing is always the logical
first step.”

And while options for fixing the cracked beams appear to be limited, transit authority
spokeswoman Christine Falvey tells us staff designers have been asked to come up with
five different repair scenarios that can be “ready to go” quickly.
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Even then, according to the experts we’ve consulted, any of the proposed fixes are likely
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to keep the Transbay Center closed for months.

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In the meantime, San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin — a longtime critic of the
center’s $2.2 billion price tag — said the job shouldn’t end there.

“Government shouldn’t do what it always does, which is to sweep this under the rug,” he
said. “We should hold people accountable.”

San Francisco Chronicle columnists Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross appear Sundays,
Mondays and Wednesdays. Matier can be seen on the KPIX-TV morning and evening
news. He can also be heard on KCBS radio Monday through Friday at 7:50 a.m. and 5:50
p.m. Got a tip? Call (415) 777-8815, or email matierandross@sfchronicle.com.
matierandross@sfchronicle.com. Twitter:
@matierandross

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