On Monday, a release of documents showed that a California High-Speed Rail and BNSF Railway bridge in Madera County has halted production due to numerous construction issues and design problems.
The Road 27 bridge, located in the town of Madera, was scheduled to have been completed in 2017 to link up the $20.4 billion Bakersfield to Merced leg of the California High-Speed Rail Project. However, steel lines that were supporting the bridge started snapping and tension strands started corroding. Engineering experts found that errors by contractors and consultants at the Sylmar-based Tutor Perini Corporation led to years of delay, with metal and steel damage halting the project since December of 2019.
According to the documents, Tutor also had to repair the steel strands twice due to the damage, with both the state of California and the freight train company BNSF reviewing further plans for the bridge. California High-Speed Rail central region Interim Director Garth Fernandez has said that Tutor, who will pay for the repair costs, is working on repairing the bridge and has expressed confidence that the bridge will be repaired soon.
However, many critics have said that the bridge, now four years behind schedule, could have more, not-yet readily apparent issues lurking beneath. Many of the issues and delays surround the high-speed line have influenced the federal government to pull some funding, such as the Department of Transportation pulling $1 billion in funding in May.
“You need to cross the T’s and dot the I’s,” explained civil engineer Dave Martin, who has worked on bridge projects in three countries. “You need to have outside counsel on this, especially after they had to already fix the bridge a few times. If you don’t have enough eyes on it, you can have an accident. It can be as simple as adding the wrong type of bolt or support, like the Kansas City walkway incident, and it can all fall down.
“For the High-Speed Rail, there’s the added pressure of urgency, as this project is years behind schedule and has gone way up in price. It was originally priced at $40 billion, but now an opening may not happen for over a decade still and is costing, by some estimates, as much as $100 billion. Any failure now for a project this size isn’t an option, by like the bridge showed, it keeps happening and costs go up.
“What we should take away from today is that the project is delayed again, costs may rise even with the firm taking any costs, and more people are getting frustrated with it. No engineer wants a white elephant, but that’s what it is looking like.”
Other high speed lines, such as an LA to Las Vegas route, are currently being moved forward by private companies.
The Road 27 bridge will remain delayed for at least the near future. The bridge, designed to carry traffic over the rail lines, is currently being suspended by temporary metal supports while repairs are delayed.
Currently there is no plan in place to finalize repairs on the bridge.