Facing allegations in a recent Sacramento Bee story that there were serious flaws in foundation testing that threatened the safety and integrity of the new east span of the Bay Bridge, Caltrans director Malcolm Dougherty called on the newspaper to retract the story. 

In a letter to Sacramento Bee executive editor Joyce Terhaar on Friday, June 8, Dougherty outlines the “major flaws” in the May 27 story by reporter Charles Piller and calls on the paper to “set the record straight.” Caltrans says its review of the Bee’s assertions has determined that they are “completely inaccurate. Every part of the new span has been thoroughly tested by expert engineers and independent experts who have determined that the bridge is safe and sound.”

According to Dougherty’s letter, the Bee reporter was “given voluminous evidence that contradicts the story’s conclusion that the bridge foundations were inadequately tested.

“Evidence suggests that your reporter failed to test the accuracy of his claims and omitted information that contradicted his conclusion.  

“The story includes unsubstantiated and untrue accusations that Caltrans officials misrepresented or dismissed important engineering evidence during bridge construction.

“Your reporter denied Caltrans representatives the opportunity to fully respond to ‘expert’ and anonymous opinions he solicited for the story.

Caltrans takes this breach of the public’s trust seriously and raises the following specific examples of inaccurate and misleading reporting in ‘Records Raise Doubts on Bay Bridge Concrete.’”

Dougherty says the story claims that Caltrans was “prevented” from doing “further examination or repair” on Pile 3 because Caltrans did not see a subcontractor’s report identifying a 19-ft anomaly using “crosshole sonic logging (CSL)” in Pile 3. “This is false,” he writes. “It incorrectly represents the role and requirements for CSL and it is contradicted by records that were supplied to the reporter.”

“Caltrans did substantial further examination,” Dougherty writes. “The concrete in Pile 3, as in all the piles, was designed to meet certain strength requirements, not to set in a short period of time. Concrete for Pile 3 was tested 28 days after it was poured and met strength requirements. The contractor tested Pile 3 on day four – a full 24 days before the Caltrans test. Caltrans uses cylinder break tests to assess concrete strength, and checks this over extended intervals, sometimes in as little as 14 days after concrete is poured and in some cases as long as 56 days after concrete was poured.” 

Dougherty says that subsequent tests and examinations by Caltrans showed that Pile 3 had, in fact, set and was sound: