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Will Criminal Investigation Make It Across the Bay Bridge?

Monday August 4th, 2014   •   Posted by K. Lloyd Billingsley at 9:04am PDT   •  

ct_logo_200The new eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge has already rung up $5 billion in cost overruns. The span also came in 10 years late and could well pose a danger to the public. As we recently noted, UC Berkeley structural engineering professor Abolhassan Astaneh-Asi believes the structure is unsafe and declines to use it. As Charles Piller writes in the Sacramento Bee, state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier charges that Caltrans accepted substandard work at taxpayer expense, and that this demands a criminal investigation. Taxpayers might question the timing here.

Six months ago, in January hearings on the bridge chaired by DeSaulnier, Caltrans geologist Michael Moore testified that safety problems were kept secret, ignored, and covered up. Moore duly called for a “criminal investigation.” Despite damaging testimony from whistleblowers and rather unconvincing responses from Caltrans bosses, DeSaulnier did not launch a criminal investigation. Instead he called for the California Highway Patrol, a law-enforcement agency, to conduct an “administrative investigation.” Now the senator, a Concord Democrat, wants a criminal investigation by the California attorney general or U.S. attorney.

DeSaulnier is running for Congress, and the call for a criminal investigation may well be a campaign pose. Safety and accountability are not his only concerns. In the January hearing he complained that the bridge problems had eroded public confidence and made Californians “adverse to taxes” needed for other “infrastructure” projects. The likely candidate is high-speed rail, another boondoggle.

Taxpayers should not be surprised if the criminal investigation never comes off. California AG Kamala Harris is a Democratic loyalist who has shown little interest in challenging government bureaucracy. Perhaps the U.S. Attorney would take up the cause. If some Caltrans boss does wind up facing charges, that could begin reform of a massive state agency that can waste $5 billion on an unsafe bridge before anybody does anything about it.

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August 2014