--When a project takes decades, big shots can always blame their predecessors.
There have been eight Caltrans directors and five governors since the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which is what damaged the bridge. When I asked Heminger whether anyone involved in costing taxpayers millions of dollars will lose his job, he answered that the cracked rods are the result of "original sin" decisions made in 2001.
--Gov. Jerry Brown is missing in action.
Last year, when a reporter asked Brown about the Bay Bridge follies, he tossed off a scatological retort: "S--- happens."
Now his office simply refers me to Kelly. As Oakland mayor, Brown helped delay this project. As governor, Brown skipped last year's opening festivities. The governor wants voters to forget the bridge debacles as he pushes a $68 billion high-speed-rail project. It, too, will take decades. It, too, will have an army of bureaucrats who will come and go, first pocketing paychecks and later deflecting accountability when things go wrong.
--Most politicians and bureaucrats don't want to know what went wrong.
DeSaulnier asked Coe whether anyone from the governor's office or someone higher than a project manager sought him out to find out what happened. Coe replied, "Nobody's ever come to ask, and I find that fascinating."
--Only the public will pay for these costly mistakes.
To fund the project, tolls rose from $1 to $6 during prime time. Tolls now cost a daily commuter roughly $1,500 per year. DeSaulnier looks at the cost of overruns and retrofitting the retrofit; it galls him that average people have to pay. "It brings out my inner Republican," he told me.
Republican state Sen. Anthony Cannella is a civil engineer who serves on the transportation committee. Cannella noted that if he had forged inspection tests, as has happened at Caltrans, he "could go to prison."
But it doesn't look as if anyone who worked on the project will pay a personal price. "There's a little pressure, and it goes away," quoth Cannella.
And lastly: "The only person who's held accountable is the taxpayer."