Caltrans Faces Probe into Cover-Up of Bay Bridge Defects

Caltrans Faces Probe into Cover-Up of Bay Bridge Defects

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Caltrans is under siege because of accusations that the agency displayed a lack of transparency and “gagged and banished” engineers who warned of construction problems on the new Bay Bridge eastern section. 

Another charge leveled at Caltrans is that it did not stress basic quality control on the construction.

Caltrans has protested that it was not a lack of transparency that was a problem, but rather poor communication with the public as well as with Caltrans employees. Caltrans also avers that there was nothing amiss with the actual construction.

The State Senate’s Transportation and Housing Committee grilled Caltrans this week about two reports that have been released criticizing the agency. One of the reports comes from journalist Roland De Wolk, who asserts that the bridge is sound enough to survive a major earthquake, but will need repair over the next 150 years because of cracked welds made at Zhenhua Heavy Factories Co. Ltd. in Shanghai condoned by Caltrans.

The other report, written by a six-member engineering panel that was chaired by Professor Reginald DesRoches of the Georgia Institute of Technology, charged that last year’s breakdown of 32 galvanized, high-strength steel rods supporting the bridge’s seismic stabilizers was problematic. The panel asserted a risk analysis should be implemented to show where the weakest point on the bridge would be in the event of an earthquake.

Caltrans admitted last week that it should have conducted an independent review before it decided to use high-strength steel in the construction’s roughly 2,000 rods and bolts. It also admitted that, “When unexpected problems” such as the failure “occurred without prior explanation or swift access and information, the lack of transparency in the decision-making process was reported by the media and did not help foster trust.”

The San Diego Union-Tribune‘s Steven Greenhut notes that the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee has issued its own 61-page report alleging a lack of transparency from Caltrans, writing:

It is the finding of this investigation that those involved in overseeing the project have attempted to keep many serious allegations quiet, rather than dealing with them in an open, businesslike manner. Those allegations at times involved the integrity of some of the bridge’s components.

The Senate also asserted “an institutionalized, if not malicious, lack of transparency in the project . . . it appears those top managers ultimately punished dissidents by either dissolving their contracts or transferring them to other assignments.”