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State Senate Hearing on Caltrans Testing Scandal

| November 22, 2011
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The Senate Transportation & Housing Committee is holding a hearing today on falsified testing data for various Bay Area construction projects by a former Caltrans employee.

From the Sac Bee today:

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 documents and today’s hearing relate to the Bee’s investigative report last week that questioned the testing of the structural integrity of the Bay Bridge’s new Eastern Span, among other projects. Caltrans fired two employees over the scandal. The agency maintains there is no evidence that former technician Duane Wiles, whom the agency acknowledges falsified data on other projects, submitted erroneous information related to the Bay Bridge.

Caltrans Acting Director Malcolm Dougherty has asked federal and state officials to consider prosecuting Wiles.

Bee reporter Charles Piller appeared on KQED Radio’s Forum program last week to explain the Bee’s findings. An extract from that show:

Reporter Charles Piller:

We’re talking about a variety of problems. Falsified data is the most troubling. We know in at least three circumstances that data was proved to be falsified by a technician at Caltrans responsible for testing the foundations of a variety of freeway structures.

We also know there were irregularities in both the design and the testing of the Bay Bridge main tower. There is no evidence at this point that data were falsified associated with that tower, however, because the design and the testing concerns are significant, experts I’ve spoken to suggest a review be made of this tower to ensure its safety.

Unfortunately the response from Caltrans has been mostly to assert that the structures, including the Bay Bridge tower, are safe, without providing evidence to suggest they’ve done the proper analysis to ensure that safety.

We did a close review of 50,000 testing documents, memos, personnel files, and evaluations of Caltrans data associated with bridge testing. We found many of their responses are directly contradicted by their own testing documents.

We found that structures all over the state of California were tested by an individual, Duane Wiles, known to have falsified data on at least three structures.

He also failed to validate the function of the test instrument, a complex precision instrument that requires daily verification of its proper functioning in order to provide reliable data. Since he didn’t do that on the Bay Bridge and on many other structures over a period of years, there are experts who believe it calls into question the validity of the test results. In many cases he gave a clean bill of health to structures that were tested improperly.

There are a couple of other really troubling aspects that I’ve been hoping Caltrans can respond effectively to but haven’t so far. One is that the portions of the Bay Bridge Tower foundation tested by Wiles were not tested with a second testing technique that could have allayed many of the concerns associated with those piles. For some reason Caltrans did not test those piles that he was responsible for with a second testing technique.

Secondly, the technicians at Caltrans, including Mr. Wiles, for years and years did not save the raw data files associated with their tests. These are the most important part of determining whether other fabrications took place. So what Caltrans is asserting is that no other fabrications took place, but they don’t have the data files that could validate their claims.

Caltrans also claims a very thorough investigation was made once the first falsification was found in 2008, so that the tests were evaluated very carefully by their own internal investigators. But I have documents by the very people who were involved directly in conducting that so-called evaluation who describe it as cursory, as completely inadequate, and that Caltrans has grossly misrepresented that process.

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