Bay Bridge Inspectors Met in Secret, Have Close Ties to Caltrans

Doubt is raised on the neutrality of engineering experts tasked to check the Bay Bridge.

A panel of engineering experts that signed off on the new Bay Bridge as structrually sound met in secret, relied entirely on Caltrans reports and not third-party review, and has close financial and work ties to the transportation agency it is tasked to oversee, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Four engineers sit on the Toll Bridge Seismic Safety Peer Review Panel, which released on Friday findings that deem the new Bay Bridge seismically safe and sound. The panel did not meet in public, despite requests to open meetings, according to the newspaper.

Caltrans's management of the bridge is in question since it was revealed an ex-employee falsified safety reports on other projects, and did not ensure the accuracy of reports detailing the foundation of the new Bay Bridge's eastern tower, the newspaper reported. Despite the concern over the accuracy and veracity of Caltrans's own reports, the panel relied entirely on information from the transportation agency to make its assessment, the Bee reported.

Much of the $6.5 billion eastern span of the Bay Bridge was constructed overseas in China. It is scheduled to open by Labor Day next year.

Lax oversight has happened to Caltrans before on the Bay Bridge. After a piece of structural support on the western span failed in 2009 during rush hour traffic, federal investigators were not asked to inspect the fix, according to The San Francisco Examiner.

The four engineers on the inspection panel for the new eastern span also have professional and financial ties to Caltrans, according to the Bee.

One, structural engineer John Fisher, 81, is a consultant for contractors on other bridge projects. Another, Frieder Seible, is dean of the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering, which received $19 million in contracts from Caltrans, the Bee reported.

These experts "validated all of Caltrans' previous assertions about the bridge foundations after relying almost exclusively on Caltrans officials to manage or conduct research for its report," the newspaper reported.

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