The California Dept. of Transportation is in the hot seat over allegations of cover-ups and faulty components on the new $6.4-billion San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. The agency's management was grilled at a state Senate hearing on Jan. 24. To add fuel to the fire, an independent report on Jan. 30 prescribes a need for "modernization and organizational culture change" in Caltrans' ranks.
Produced by the State Smart Transportation Initiative of the University of Wisconsin, which interviewed more than 100 employees, the report criticizes the agency's management and operations.
"Caltrans today is significantly out of step with best practice in the transportation field and with the state of California's policy expectations," reads the report. "It is in need of modernization—both in the way it sees its job and how it approaches that job—and of a culture change that will foster needed adaptation and innovation."
Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty says he sees the study's findings as "a tremendous opportunity to reassess" his agency's priorities and improve its performance. "We have some internal reforms already under way so we can hit the ground running," he says.
Caltrans says it will soon release a "straightforward accounting" of how the department is performing.
California state Senator Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) says that, in order for Caltrans to modernize, it needs to be "more responsive to its clients—the taxpayers. It is imperative that the department regain the public trust, and that begins with greater transparency."
A Bunker Mentality
DeSaulnier chairs the California Senate Transportation and Housing Committee, which held the hearing on Jan. 24, during which Caltrans employees and con- sultants testified that, on numerous occasions, their concerns about defective components on the new bridge were ignored by project managers or led to retribution.
Caltrans engineer Doug Coe, who alleges he was removed from the Bay Bridge project after he complained about the welding work being done in China by the subcontracting company ZPMC, said his agency's "bunker mentality" of keeping things internal and not being more transparent was not healthy.
"There were many problems with cracks," said Coe, who has served 25 years with Caltrans, "yet production wasn't stopping."
Steve Heminger, executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, responded by saying they did not ignore the weld problems; they sent a multidisciplinary team to China to investigate and put together a "phonebook-sized report" that reviewed all the issues associated with the deck welds.