Patt Morrison for August 6, 2012

Caltrans engineers uncover suspicious, doctored safety tests of Bay Area bridges

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

General view of the Bay Bridge before Game Two of the 2010 MLB World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Texas Rangers on October 28, 2010 in San Francisco, California.

Earlier this year, Caltrans maintained that Bay Area bridges such as the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, were safe to drive across, but privately, the agency may not be so confident about the integrity of the bridges, according to a new report from The Sacramento Bee.

"What were able to show was that the problems are way more extensive involving many, many more structures than CalTrans had acknowledged," said Charles Piller, senior investigative reporter for the Sacramento Bee

As far back as 2004, a technician named Duane Wiles, who no longer works for Caltrans, is suspected of having falsified data on multiple safety tests of towers, called piles, which support the bridges.

"The Bee has had a substantial amount of tests, data, other technical materials, engineering drawings, design plans etc. reviewed by some of the top experts in bridge foundation design and testing in the world. And uniformly they've come back with concerns about whether the testing was adequate to ensure to the public that these structures indeed are structurally sound," said Piller.

Although there is no immediate danger to those driving across the bridges, the larger concern is if they would survive a worst case scenario, such as an earthquake.

Caltrans is investigating the test irregularities, but will not know how problematic the falsified data is until the investigation is complete. Caltrans' actions following the Wiles controversy have reportedly jeopardized federal funding of state highway projects.

Most of the data the Sacramento Bee was able to obtain came from CalTrans insiders who are very concerned about safety.

The California Senate Transportation Committee has scheduled a public hearing on August 14 to address issues raised in The Sacramento Bee’s ongoing investigation of bridge testing.

You can read the full Sacramento Bee investigation, which began last fall, here.

WEIGH IN:

Is Caltrans concealing information related to the safety of bridges? How should the Federal Highway Administration oversee the situation?

Guest:

Charles Piller, senior investigative reporter for the Sacramento Bee


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