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We have been following the story of the new eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, which came in ten years late, $5 billion over budget, and with lingering safety concerns. As we noted, UC Berkeley structural engineering professor Abolhassan Astaneh-Asi believes the bridge is unsafe and declines to use it. Governor Jerry Brown, a former candidate for president, responded to the safety issues with: “I mean, look, shit happens.” Some whistleblowers also thought so, and in a Sacramento hearing last January they called for a “criminal investigation.” That did not happen, but Caltrans boss Brian Kelly ordered an administrative investigation by the California Highway Patrol. The CHP deals with crimes committed on state property, but it’s a strange choice to investigate malfeasance on the bridge.
According to the Sacramento Bee, whose reporting brought the safety concerns to light, the CHP probe found “no illegality or retaliation against engineers who complained about construction defects.” The 33-page CHP report, however, cost some $823,000, with 13 officers working nearly 13,000 hours, including 1,500 hours of overtime. So taxpayers may be forgiven for seeing the CHP investigation not only as a cover-up but also as an excuse to waste even more money. But the story does not end there.
In the January hearing, Sen. Mark 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 claimed would promote economic growth. He gave no examples, but the prime candidate is surely the state’s $68 billion high-speed rail project.
DeSaulnier, who is running for Congress, is passing on an earlier Senate bridge report to state Attorney General Kamala Harris, with recommendations for a criminal investigation. Harris has shown not the slightest interest in challenging government bureaucracy, so taxpayers should not be surprised if the criminal investigation never comes off. That is good news for bureaucrats but bad news for taxpayers. If they believe massive state agencies are essentially unreformable, one can hardly blame them.