Skip to comments.After probe, all's weld on Bay Bridge
Posted on 10/21/2005 8:35:57 AM PDT by SmithL
The FBI has closed an eight-month probe into allegations that the new $6.3 billion Bay Bridge rests on faulty support piles -- an investigation that stalled construction on some parts of the bridge and cast a shadow over the state's largest ever seismic safety project.
"For all intents and purposes, the case is closed," said LaRae Quy, spokeswoman for the FBI's San Francisco office. "We did not have the forensic evidence to prove the allegations."
The inquiry began in February when an unnamed bridge worker called the FBI's public corruption hotline to claim that the bridge's contractor -- a joint venture known as KFM -- concealed shoddy welding work on support piles buried deep below the Bay.
From that single tip, the FBI launched an investigation that involved numerous state and federal agencies and stopped welding work on the new span for one month -- at an estimated cost of $2.4 million. That doesn't include the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on experts and equipment.
The FBI concluded it did not have evidence to prove criminal intent, Quy said.
"Motorists can be confident that a safe bridge is being built," said Caltrans spokesman Mark DeSio. "Caltrans has the best engineers in the world and on this seismic retrofit project they are continuing to set the standard for innovation and excellence."
Welding experts brought in by the Federal Highway Administration announced in April that several tested welds were "excellent," though the tests involved welds at the water line -- not on piles buried deep in the Bay.
In closing the case, the FBI signaled it has no desire to dig up those piles and continue the investigation.
"It came down to a battle of experts and witnesses, and we just didn't have the evidence to go on," Quy said.
The case opened in February at about the same time the FBI's public corruption hotline debuted. After receiving a tip about the welds, Quy said FBI agents had enough suspicions to start a preliminary inquiry.
"We had probable cause," she said.
A fuller investigation developed after a round of interviews with past and present bridge welders.
In early April, the case went public when the Oakland Tribune published allegations from more than a dozen welders who said the contractor forced them to conceal shoddy work to speed up construction.
Caltrans ordered the welding work to stop on the bridge -- a stoppage estimated to cost $80,000 a day.
After extensive testing by independent experts brought in by the Federal Highway Administration, officials reported in May that the welds showed "excellent workmanship."
While the FBI has closed its criminal case, the state Attorney General's Office also has an investigation. The highway administration is also probing whether the bridge is structurally safe.
Representatives for the contractor could not be reached for comment Thursday. A former welding foreman who alleged shoddy welds were covered up did not return phone calls.
Mike Adamick covers transportation. Reach him at 925-945-4745 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
February: Tipster phones FBI's public corruption hotline and says welds on new Bay Bridge are faulty.
April 5: FBI subpoenas Caltrans welding records.
April 6: FBI confirms it has launched criminal probe into allegations of faulty work on skyway portion of new Bay Bridge.
April 7: Caltrans halts concrete work on four foundations; contractor stops welding at a cost of at least $80,000 a day.
April 21-22: Visual and magnetic particle testing begins on pier foundation E4W, close to Yerba Buena Island on westbound side of new skyway portion.
April 22: Three welding samples are removed where support piles reach foundation.
May 4: Federal Highway Administration releases welding test results, authorizes construction to resume.
May 6: Contractor starts pouring concrete into four open foundations.
May-October: FBI continues investigation, seeking records and interviews.
Oct. 20: FBI confirms it has closed eight-month investigation and will not bring charges because of lack of evidence.
I thought the unions were behind this. If so, they should pay the $2.4 million.