Data on bridge testing units problems released by Caltrans

Caltrans released thousands of pages of new information Monday about data fabrications and other problems in its Foundation Testing Branch, a unit that examines the underground supports for bridges and other freeway structures in California.

The information addresses Caltrans' assertions of safety about three structures on which test data were fabricated. It also includes previously undisclosed integrity tests for the Bay Bridge main tower.

The Bee had requested the Bay Bridge documents in October. At that time, Caltrans said it did not have additional records. The newly discovered reports show that foundation piles examined by technician Duane Wiles, who had falsified data on other bridges, were tested more extensively than Caltrans stated earlier.

Caltrans said that the data helps to prove that the new Bay Bridge is safe. But the freshly discovered records raise new questions about the density of concrete on at least two Bay Bridge tower piles.

The agency released the data in response to requests from state legislators, following a recent Bee investigation that cited testing and design questions about the concrete and steel piles that underpin the new Bay Bridge tower.

After The Bee report appeared, Caltrans fired Wiles and his supervisor, Brian Liebich. A state oversight committee announced last week that an expert review of the foundation of the new Bay Bridge tower would be conducted by the California Seismic Safety Peer Review Panel.

Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, chairman of the California Senate Committee on Transportation and Housing, said his committee would hold a hearing on the testing issues today.

"We're going to listen to Caltrans, but it's our duty to go beyond what Caltrans says," said DeSaulnier. "We'll dig as deep as required to find out the truth."

Seven of the 13 Bay Bridge tower piles were tested by Wiles, who failed to verify the proper operation of his gamma-radiation test device, a required step to ensure the best-quality results.

Experts also questioned the design of the piles, which made it impossible for Caltrans to follow its own requirements for radiation testing.

Caltrans sometimes orders a second type of integrity testing for foundation piles, involving acoustic waves. Last month, agency officials said that in most cases involving portions of the bridge foundation examined by Wiles, they had no such sonic test records. After The Bee investigation was published, Caltrans obtained tests for most of the piles from the contractor who conducted them.

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