What went wrong on the Bay Bridge?

A temporary repair made during Labor Day weekend failed in high winds, leaving thousands of commuters in a traffic mess. The Federal Highway Administration is investigating.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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    Crews work on the Bay Bridge in San Francisco, Wednesday. The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge has been closed indefinitely after a rod installed during last month's emergency repairs snapped, causing a traffic nightmare for the 280,000 motorists who cross the landmark span every day.
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Transportation officials blame high winds for causing a 5,000 pound crossbar and two steel rods to snap off a previously repaired section of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge on Tuesday during rush-hour.

The bridge remained closed Wednesday as workers battled more gusty winds to fix the section. Officials haven't said when the bridge, which carries 280,000 motorists daily, will reopen. One person was injured and three cars damaged.

The pieces that fell were meant to fix a cracked eyebar that was discovered when the bridge was closed over Labor Day weekend for unrelated work on a new span, which is set to replace the existing bridge, built in 1936.

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When engineers noticed the damaged eyebar during an inspection planned to coincide with the weekend closure, crews worked around the clock and reopened the bridge to commuters on Tuesday morning following the holiday.

"Instead of replacing the eyebar, engineers designed a system that would place high-tension steel rods around the eyebars to redistribute the load evenly," according to a statement from the California Transportation Commission, or Caltrans, at the time.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the Federal Highway Administration will look into the failed Labor Day patch job. The agency did not inspect the previous repair.

"The early diagnosis is that a fatigue-related crack in a tie rod exacerbated by yesterday's wind storm" caused the failure, Caltrans spokesman Bart Ney told The Contra Costa Times.

Caltrans will provide updates regarding the bridge opening here.

The Bay Bridge closure has snarled traffic around San Francisco and packed the area's commuter trains. For drivers trying to cross Tuesday night, the commute turned into a quagmire.

Penny Godbold, driving to her San Francisco home from her Berkeley, Calif., office, was stuck for two hours on the edge of the bridge, just beyond the toll plaza. Soon after she paid the $4 to cross, she says, traffic came to a "dead halt."

"There was no communication from law enforcement, or Caltrans, or anything about the situation," she says. Ms. Godbold's husband eventually called her cell phone and told her about the closure. "I had to convince people four lanes over to start turning around."

Getting off the bridge and back onto the highway toward the Golden Gate Bridge "was like a game of Frogger," she says. And since she never crossed the Bay Bridge, she says, "I really want my $4 back."

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