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OKd All Funds for Safe Roads, Governor Says : Seismic danger: Deukmejian distances himself from blame for freeway collapse. Panel prepares for probe.


McCarthy also said he is concerned about "several other" double-deck freeways that appear to have weaknesses similar to the Nimitz. He named two in San Francisco--the Embarcadero and the easternmost section of Interstate 280, both of which have been closed.

Deukmejian described the pancaked Nimitz--deathtrap for an unknown number of motorists--as "just a sickening sight . . . most of them never had a chance."

"I still can't believe what happened," the governor said, "because I've always been under the impression that the freeways could withstand a quake of that severity. If anybody had ever suggested that that stretch, or any other stretch of freeway or any bridge, was unsafe--that it couldn't withstand a quake of that severity--then it should have been closed."

Caltrans reassessed the safety of its roads after the 1971 Sylmar earthquake, which collapsed freeway bridges in the San Fernando Valley and claimed 58 lives.

But it took until this year for the department to complete the $54-million first phase of the retrofit program, which involved securing highway decking to the concrete support columns. This was done on more than 1,200 elevated structures, including the section of the Nimitz Freeway that collapsed, Caltrans officials said.

The second phase of the project, expected to cost about $65 million, involves wrapping steel reinforcement around the columns themselves. But Phase 2 applies only to highways supported by a single column--not those, such as the Nimitz, where the roadway decks rest atop concrete columns grouped in pairs.

William E. Schaefer, chief engineer for Caltrans, has said repeatedly since the quake that the technology to reinforce the double-column bridges does not exist. Researchers at UC San Diego are expected to devise a solution soon, Schaefer said.

But a number of private engineers and at least one high-ranking Caltrans engineer have said that technology has been available to protect structures such as the Nimitz. And they contend it has not been used because of budget constraints. That view was supported Sunday by Wilfred Iwan, a professor of applied mechanics at Caltech and former chairman of the state's Seismic Safety Commission.

"The engineering, I believe, was there and available to have made the kind of fixes that were needed," Iwan said on the Brinkley show. "It would take a lot of money to strengthen these structures. There are a lot of competing social issues that take money. Preparedness for earthquakes is only one."

Deukmejian, however, insisted that "all of the priorities that Caltrans recognized (as) needed to be accomplished have been accomplished. To my knowledge, any request that we have received . . . for work relating to protection against seismic activity . . . has all been approved and authorized. Nothing has ever been turned down or denied."

Times staff writer Doyle McManus in Washington contributed to this report.

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