Monday, November 14, 2011
Two major freeway bridges in San Diego County were tested for safety by a Caltrans engineer who was later disciplined for faking test results on other structures, calling into question the safety of some massive new bridges, it was reported Sunday.
A whistleblower within the state agency told the Sacramento Bee that concrete tests on bridges across the state were either fabricated, or measured with possibly-faulty equipment. Two of the suspected bridges are the new Interstate 15 bridges above Green Valley Creek south of Escondido, and the freeway ramp between northbound Route 125 and westbound Route 54 east of National City.
And one of the now-questionable bridges is the center span support for the $6.3 billion San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge, the Sacramento Bee reported today.
Three weeks after the newspaper started making inquiries about test results for the safety of bridges, Caltrans placed the engineer and his supervisor on administrative leave, The Bee reported. But that move came three years after allegations of faked data first were raised within the agency, and after Caltrans, the federal Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration launched separate probes into problems in the Caltrans Foundation Testing Branch.
Engineer Duane Wiles was accused by coworkers of either fabricating bridge safety measurements, or using measurement tools that were not properly calibrated, on bridges across the state. Wiles is also accused of discarding raw measurement data about large bridges across the state.
Top Caltrans officials, according to the newspaper, also failed to go back and check Wiles' work after whistleblowers first made their charges. A later state investigation found three structures where Wiles allegedly faked testing data, The Bee reported.
But the biggest problem may be the concrete and steel piles driven deep into the mud of San Francisco Bay, which now support the main suspension tower for the Bay Bridge's eastern section. Engineers consulted by the Sacramento newspaper say the integrity of those subsurface supports is now buried and impossible to doublecheck.
The newspaper's experts said Wiles failed to verify testing devices used on at least 25 structures, including bridges and large overhead freeway sign foundations in Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Diego.
Among the bridges with questionable foundation tests are the 405's diagonal bridge over Braddock Drive in Culver City, which was rebuilt recently. The curving flyover connector for median carpool lanes at the 57/60 interchange in Diamond Bar is another.
Also not properly tested is the La Sierra Avenue overpass above the Riverside (91) Freeway in Riverside, the newspaper reported.