2 Investigates claims of Bay Bridge tunnel crumbling on cars

What appeared to be a large brick shattered Dean Marcic’s windshield as he was traveling with his wife across the Bay Bridge toward Oakland a couple weekends ago. Miraculously, the ultraviolet, aftermarket $400-protective layer Marcic had put on his window prevented the large rock or hunk of concrete from penetrating through. It may have ultimately saved his life.

“I was very startled,” Marcic said. “My wife was very startled and she said it sounded like somebody shot us.”

Marcic, a police sergeant, said he was driving and entered the Yerba Buena tunnel headed toward Oakland on a Saturday afternoon. He said he saw an object fall from the ceiling, drop and crash onto his windshield causing glass to explode inside his truck with his wife sitting in the passenger seat.

“It was just, boom and I was like, whoa!” Marcic explained, “I grabbed my shirt, put it up over my head to make sure I wasn’t going to get anymore shards of glass in my eyes.”

Immediately, he pulled over at the nearby Caltrans office on the bridge and reported what happened. He claimed a worker told him he was the fourth person in recent months to report the same thing happening, in the same place and in the same lane.

“My wife and I just looked back and forth at each other saying, what? Again?” Marcic said.

It’s not the first time drivers have claimed pieces of the 82-year-old tunnel came crashing down on their cars. The most significant was in January 2016 when concrete and falling debris damaged several cars and caused some minor injuries. Marcic is one of four people who have filed against Caltrans, alleging that pieces of the bridge have damaged their cars. Yet, Caltrans have denied them all, saying there's no proof the bridge is crumbling, causing that damage.

Yet in 2016, several cars were damaged when a large chunk of concrete fell from a tunnel wall into passing cars. Back then, Caltrans performed tests and found more than a dozen spots in the tunnel where concrete was in danger of breaking away from the wall.

In a report obtained by 2 Investigates, engineers published results from radar, light and hammer testing, which resulted in nearly 200 repairs of loose concrete on spots on the tunnel walls. The total cost for all of the repairs totaled close to $1.5 million.

Caltrans insists the structure is now sound.

“It’s safe, it’s very safe,” Caltrans spokesperson Jeff Weiss said. “We did all sorts of testing to fix those cracks to shore up the tunnel to make sure that this wouldn’t happen again.”

Every day, 280,000 cars and trucks go through the tunnels to cross the bay and Caltrans said since 2017, the agency had four claims of things falling from the bridge. However, in all cases, the department maintains there’s no proof it came from the tunnel walls or ceiling.

“We’re troubled by the lack of evidence and we’ve looked at all the pictures and they look like rocks and other debris that might be on the freeway,” Weiss said. “We’re not going to take the blame for something that we don’t feel is ours for two reasons. One, it’s not ours and two, we don’t want people to be worried about tiles falling from the ceiling of the tunnel when it hasn’t happened.”

The tunnel was built in 1936 and underwent major renovations in the 1960s. The most recent inspection report from September 2017 proves its showing its age. Specifically, it spells out that vertical cracking is common every three to 10 feet on the tunnel walls, 125 square feet of tiles are missing or broken and some wall areas were patched as water was causing concrete to break away. Additionally, six areas still need attention within the next two years.

2 Investigates questioned Weiss about the possibility of something falling from the ceiling or wall of the tunnel.

“We believe that it’s possible that something could have fallen from the ceiling but we would have evidence of that,” Weiss responded. “We would be able to see a place where there’s a hole on the ceiling or a broken tile or something like that. We can’t find anything.”

Caltrans suspects the claims of structural pieces of concrete falling may actually be pieces of broken guardrail or construction debris that caused damage to cars in the tunnel or on the bridge. 

Marcic insists that couldn't be. He said no one was in front of him and he recalls seeing something fall from above; he is sure whatever it was that fell on his car, it fell from above. 

“I could have died, my wife could have died,” Marcic exclaimed. “I know what I saw!”

With his decades of police work, he said it seems impossible that something could flip up and create the damage he documented.

“It shattered the window,” Marcic said. “I’d like my chances in court because it’s already cost me over $1,000 and I’m not paying for it.”

Marcic did not know his claim would be denied until 2 Investigates told him. He has since made it his mission to take on the state in the name of safety, persisting it was part of the structure that struck his truck.

“I will go to court and I will prove my point,” Marcic said.