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Bridge and Chips

Monday March 17th, 2014   •   Posted by K. Lloyd Billingsley at 9:24am PDT   •  

chp_200As we have noted, the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge cost $6.4 billion, $5 billion more than the original estimate, and came in ten years late. Despite the prodigious waste and delay state politicians and Caltrans bosses hailed the new span as a great victory. But problems quickly arose. Steel rods broke and sections of the bridge filled with water.

In a January 24 hearing in the State Transportation and Housing Committee several witnesses testified that Caltrans bosses compromised quality by ignoring problems with welds, bolts and rods. They also opted for a kind of steel prone to embrittlement, and that is why a number of rods cracked. Caltrans bosses downplayed these costly problems, reassigned the whistleblowers, and even told engineers not to write things down to avoid public disclosure. Senator Mark DeSaulnier, who conducted the hearing, cited “a deliberate and willful attempt to obfuscate what is happening to the public.” But he did not follow up on one whistleblower’s call for a “criminal investigation,” a perfectly reasonable request.

Now the California Highway Patrol is looking into the welding problems on the bridge but state officials call this “an administrative inquiry, not a criminal probe.” The CHP deals with crimes committed on state property but is a strange choice to investigate malfeasance on the bridge.

DeSaulnier backs the CHP inquiry and says “the intention of the Senate investigation was always to turn it over to the governor’s office and the attorney general’s office for a criminal investigation to make sure people are held accountable.” But no criminal investigation is in fact taking place and that is something of a giveaway.

In the January hearing DeSaulnier complained that the cost overruns, 10-year delay, and lingering safety issues had eroded public confidence and made Californians “adverse to taxes.” These taxes were needed for other “infrastructure” projects that DeSaulnier said would promote economic growth. He gave no examples but the prime candidate is surely the state’s $68 billion high-speed rail project.

Meanwhile, the CHP “administrative inquiry” gives the appearance of accountability but taxpayers may be forgiven for seeing it as a coverup. Politicians and bureaucrats are hoping the inquiry makes Californians more open to new and higher taxes to fund future boondoggles.

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March 2014