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Private Sector Can't Be Trusted With Bridges

November 24, 2002

Re "Few Bumps Found on Caltrans' Path," Nov. 17:

It is not surprising that Caltrans gets relatively high marks for recent construction projects. Infrastructure projects, particularly concrete structures, tend to show their defects many years -- or even decades -- after they are built.

Once the concrete is stripped, it is most often "spalling" of concrete (flakes or chunks of concrete falling off the surface) that indicates that rebar was placed too close to the inside of the form. When this happens, the usual reaction is to patch the offending spots as quickly as possible and make sure a good cosmetic appearance is maintained.

As a quality engineer, my reaction to the recent problems with the flyover bridge near John Wayne Airport is to conclude that the concrete pre-pour inspection was inadequate and that the placement of rebar is suspect throughout. I say this because spacing between rebar and the inside of the form is one of the first things an inspector checks along with count, configuration, size, spacing and tie-down of all the reinforcing steel. This takes time -- including time for correction -- and trained personnel with adequate authority to get the job done.

Stingy state budgets have left Caltrans in the position of turning over inspection and most oversight to the private sector, where low bidders are given the opportunity to cut corners in areas where their errors and omissions are unlikely to be discovered for years to come. If Hoover Dam had been built under this philosophy, it would not likely be standing today.

Stu O'Guinn

Huntington Beach

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The Orange County Transportation Authority has hired private engineering firms to design, inspect and construct the ramp that might need to be replaced connecting the San Diego and Costa Mesa freeways. OCTA's project manager won't point any fingers of blame. But why should taxpayers be saddled with this expense? Why aren't these firms removed or fired?

Oh, well! Remember, this is only the beginning. Proposition 35 will allow all public transportation projects to be completed by private firms. So I guess Orange County will have its own "falling bridge" song!

Elyse Leeb

Mission Viejo

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