Destiny… great word with a powerful meaning that connotes the power believed to control inevitable events. Scholars use the phrase “force majeure” when the inevitable happens during a projects life. In a project, and in all other facets of life, the inevitable comes with unintended consequences which are mostly considered as baggage, very weighty baggage.
How badly do these unintended consequences affect a project? A LOT. Vague answer right? I guessed as much. A subject of such delicate nature should be treated within a context and through the eyes of an existing project otherwise called a case study.
For this particular article, the case to be studied is the San Francisco-Oakland Bay bridge. Located in the interstate 80 between San Francisco and Alameda Counties. This bridge spans a 23,000 feet (4.5 miles) on a suspension, tunnel, cantilever and truss structure with a reported average daily traffic of 270,000 vehicles. The need for this bridge surfaced in the Gold Rush Days when the mass production of automobiles showed that the best and most lasting solution for road users who had previously traveled that route via ferries, was to build a bridge spanning the San Francisco Bay to link San Francisco and Oakland.
History has it that at the time, a project of such magnitude was considered impossible. Determined and strong as the human will usually is, they set out to build the impossible with California State Highway Engineer Charles C. Purcell appointed to head the team. Their decision was met with topographical and structural challenges but at each phase of challenge, innovations were adopted and the challenges were surmounted. Everything went on nicely and the bridge was in use. Then, force majeure hit hard on this bridge when in 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake rocked the bay area. The initial budget estimated for fixing the damaged bridge was $250 million.
But then again unintended contingencies kicked in and by the time the fixes commenced, the initial estimates had “quadrupled” as further investigations showed that more work had to be done than earlier anticipated. The budget kept increasing with time. And the project earned quite a reputation. My tag for that project is “the project with the eagle budget”. How else will one explain a budget that rose from $250 to $6.5 billion in one lifetime?
Anyway, the good news is that the bridge is all pretty and strong and standing today despite all the controversies (ranging from the design to be adopted, and the cost of its actual construction) that were associated with its construction. A lot of high sounding words and conspiracy theories that can be used to describe why variations occur in the construction of a project. But for me, it all boils down to the simple biblical advice as seen in LUKE 14:28-30 “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.'”
That’s it from me. I believe if we take out the time and patience to count the costs, we will get something close enough to the budget! Until next time!
by D’zyna Eni