Deeply Buried Doubts: Errors and Fraud Threaten California’s Costliest Bridge

Number 25965
Subject Construction
Source Sacramento Bee
State California
Year 2012
Publication Date 3/25/12; 3/28/12; 5/27/12; 5/30/12; 8/5/12; 11/29/12
Summary This year-long investigation examined construction and testing of the new $6.4 billion San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, and found widespread errors and malfeasance. The new eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge is the most costly public works project in California history. Its designers valued one quality above all others: the strength to withstand the strongest anticipated earthquake. This investigation raised questions about the structural integrity of the span that are not easy to answer. It revealed flaws in tests of the main tower’s foundation, chronicled the troubled work history of the technician who conducted many of the tests and had fabricated data on other structures. The series also revealed bridges throughout the state burdened with similar issues – raising calls for new safety examinations. Until contacted by The Bee, the California Department of Transportation had overlooked the problems with the Bay Bridge. But the findings of the initial stories of the series – validated by top experts in the construction and testing of such massive foundations – forced them to act. Two Caltrans employees – the technician and his supervisor – were fired as a result of the Bee stories, prosecutors launched investigations and state legislative committees convened to examine the department’s practices and culture. The stories were based on a review of about 80,000 pages of technical plans, test results, internal emails and personnel documents, and interviews with numerous insiders. The Bee showed how officials failed to conduct a thorough investigation of testing fabrications, years after learning of the problems. After the initial story in 2011 (not part of this award application, but included in the submission for context only), Caltrans’ “peer review” experts examined the Bay Bridge– and gave it a clean bill of health. Piller showed soon after that they were compromised by serious financial and professional conflicts of interest with Caltrans and bridge contractors.
Category Contest Entry
Pages
Keywords Oakland Bay Bridge; public works; California; California Department of Transportation
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