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Lawmakers call for review of Bay Bridge safety

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Troubling questions: Caltrans has been dogged by reports that a technician with a history of falsifying structural integrity tests worked on the new Bay Bridge project. - S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • S.F. Examiner File Photo
  • Troubling questions: Caltrans has been dogged by reports that a technician with a history of falsifying structural integrity tests worked on the new Bay Bridge project.

The structural integrity of the new Bay Bridge span will be reviewed by an independent panel following a request by state lawmakers concerned about 
accusations of test falsifications on the project.

Since November, The Sacramento Bee has run a series of stories detailing how Duane Wiles, a technician with a history of falsifying structural integrity tests, worked on the new $6.5 billion eastern span project. The Bee’s reporting raised questions about the soundness of the new self-anchored suspension span pilings. Caltrans, the state agency in charge of the project, has 
repeatedly denied all claims from the stories.

As a result of the ongoing dispute, during a hearing about the matter three state lawmakers  requested a full and independent review of the bridge’s testing and structural integrity.

“What we’ve heard from the folks at Caltrans convinces me that the bridge is probably safe,” said state Sen. Joe Simitian, one of the lawmakers who asked for the study. “But after 25 years and more than $6 billion, ‘probably’ really isn’t good enough.”

Per the request, the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office will select a panel of independent experts to review the Bay Bridge rebuild project. Simitian did not know yet who would be selected, but he said he hoped the panel would complete its review in time for the new span’s opening in 2013.

Caltrans officials have said that the number of testing and oversight redundancies on the span makes it impossible for a single technician to have an impact on the integrity of the bridge. A peer-review panel in March concluded that the span was completely safe, although that group had three members with close ties to Caltrans, 
calling into question its 
independence.

Bay Bridge spokesman Bart Ney said it was too early to tell if the independent review would delay the  planned opening in 2013 of its rebuilt span.

“Caltrans appreciated the opportunity to address questions on the Bay Bridge’s design, construction and peer review, and will continue to work with the Legislature on our joint goal of ensuring the 
public that the Bay Bridge is safe,” Ney said.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com