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The $6.4 Billion Bridge to No Accountability

Wednesday May 14th, 2014   •   Posted by K. Lloyd Billingsley at 7:05am PDT   •  

ct_logo_200As we have noted, the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge cost $6.4 billion, a full $5 billion more than the original estimate, and the project came in ten years late. The delay of a decade, however, was not sufficient to resolve serious safety problems with the bridge. Those were the subject of hearings in Sacramento in which one whistleblower called for a criminal investigation. The revelations suggested such an investigation was entirely warranted but it never took place. Now, as this report notes, Caltrans is dismissing the safety concerns.

Caltrans concludes that apart from ongoing tests of anchor rods, no concerns exist. Caltrans did not mention the corrosion in the protected chambers that house the main cable anchorage, which have been detailed in news reports.

Caltrans boss Tony Anziano dismissed concerns raised by independent experts. What we have here is a massive state agency essentially investigating itself, a dynamic that also emerged in the hearing.

Senator Mark DeSaulnier, who conducted the proceedings, observed that “Caltrans audits itself,” unlike procedures in states such as Texas, and that in Caltrans “you don’t go after the trouble, you go after the troublemaker.” DeSaulnier told Caltrans bosses “I don’t believe you” and cited “a deliberate and willful attempt to obfuscate what is happening to the public.” But he did not follow up on the call for a “criminal investigation.” Instead the California Highway Patrol was to conduct an “administrative inquiry” which taxpayers may be forgiven for seeing as a coverup.

In the hearing DeSaulnier charged that cost overruns 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.

That project, and the $6.4 billion Bay Bridge, confirm that politicians are adverse to waste and allergic to reform. That’s why they back boondoggles, fail to launch criminal investigations, and let a massive state agency like Caltrans essentially investigate itself.

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May 2014