The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

Caltrans San Francisco Bay Bridge Website Glitch

Strange Coincidence Foreshadows Problem

2 min read
Caltrans San Francisco Bay Bridge Website Glitch

It was a bit of a weird coincidence.

The San Francisco Bay Bridge was closed for scheduled repairs last Thursday, and was scheduled to reopen today. The repairs were  being made to help the bridge better withstand an earthquake, the New York Times said in a story about the repairs.

During the repairs, workers unexpectedly found that a large crack in a span, which required an emergency repair. As a result the opening was going to be delayed for a day, and a day of commuting nightmares was expected.

However, repairs were able to be completed more quickly  than anticipated, and the bridge opened at 0700 PDT today, just two hours late.

Nothing particularly unusual about any of this except that last week, as the bridge was being shutdown, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) web site helpfully displayed a count-down clock with the number of hours left to complete the weekend's repair project. According to this post at the San Francisco Chronicles' The Tech Chronicles, the clock showed the repair was going to take 267 days and then some.

The glitch was corrected a very short-time later.

But I began to wonder when I watched Prof. Abolhassan Astaneh-Asl at the UCal BerkeleyDepartment of Civil and Environmental Engineering and an expert on bridges being quoted in a nationally televised ABCNews program last night that the Bay Bridge should not be reopened, claiming that the bridge is not safe because of the newly found crack .

The coincidence between the web site glitch, the discovery of the new crack, and Prof. Astaneh-Asl's recommendation doesn't mean anything, of course, but sometimes it does make you wonder ...

BTW, no word from Caltrans on what it thinks of Prof. Astaneh-Asl's recommendation.

Update: Originally I wrote that Pro. Astaneh-Asl had said the bridge should not be reopened at all, which was incorrect, as Pro. Astaneh-Asl noted in a comment. I apologize for the error, which was not intentional.

Since many who read the blog don't get to see the comments, and in fairness to Pro. Astaneh-Asl, I am reposting his comment in full here:

"My comment on the ABC World news was not that the bridge the bridge should not be opened at all. Having studied the Bay Bridge for the last 20 years I made the comment that this bridge should not be opened in such a haste just after repairing this one fractured eye-bar. The fracture is clearly due to fatigue and until you conduct an in depth inspection of other 63 similar eye-bars, to ensure that they are no fatigue cracks in them, you should not open the bridge to traffic. For more information please listen to the discussion I had today on the KQED radio at http://www.kqed.org/radio/programs/radionews/ By the way, all this discussion and the contributions made to the subject, even if broadcast sometimes in bits and pieces, including your above contribution, are very valuable since this is a very serious public safety issue. Best regards. Abolhassan Astaneh-Asl, Ph.D., P.E., Professor, UC Berkeley ."

The Conversation (0)

Why Functional Programming Should Be the Future of Software Development

It’s hard to learn, but your code will produce fewer nasty surprises

11 min read
Vertical
A plate of spaghetti made from code
Shira Inbar
DarkBlue1

You’d expectthe longest and most costly phase in the lifecycle of a software product to be the initial development of the system, when all those great features are first imagined and then created. In fact, the hardest part comes later, during the maintenance phase. That’s when programmers pay the price for the shortcuts they took during development.

So why did they take shortcuts? Maybe they didn’t realize that they were cutting any corners. Only when their code was deployed and exercised by a lot of users did its hidden flaws come to light. And maybe the developers were rushed. Time-to-market pressures would almost guarantee that their software will contain more bugs than it would otherwise.

Keep Reading ↓Show less
{"imageShortcodeIds":["31996907"]}