For all their talk of transparency and welcoming outside review, officials in charge of building the new Bay Bridge continue to mislead the public and dismiss experts who disagree with them.
Some commission members are frustrated. They're tired of learning about construction problems from newspaper investigations and then receiving the officials' substandard briefings.
With a planned Labor Day opening uncertain, the bridge remains plagued by questions surrounding the broken rods, similarly galvanized bolts elsewhere on the span, faulty welds and corroded steel tendons in the roadway. The issues raise concerns about bridge durability and strength to withstand major earthquakes.
The officials in question comprise the three-member Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee, created by the 2005 state legislation. They are the executive directors of the state Department of Transportation (Malcolm Dougherty), the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (Steve Heminger) and the California Transportation Commission (Andre Boutros). It's Dougherty's department, known as Caltrans, that's responsible for day-to-day construction oversight.
Following revelations about the rod fiasco, the officials promised to seek -- and later received -- agreement from the Federal Highway Administration to independently review their investigation of what went wrong and to "double check" that their recommended solution "is the best and safest possible."
That didn't happen before Caltrans moved ahead with plans for a huge metal connector that will replace the failed rods. Workers have already begun chipping away at a concrete pier that will hold it.
It was under questioning by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission on Wednesday that Heminger and Dougherty revealed they had bypassed the highway administration. They suddenly claimed they never intended to include that repair in the federal review.
Despite repeated assurances that they will not cut corners to meet the Labor Day opening, Heminger said timing was a concern in the decision to install the metal connector without federal input. "We're operating on a very accelerated schedule here," he said.
Meanwhile, Caltrans continues investigating what caused the rod failures. That brings us to Thomas Devine, a UC Berkeley professor and former chairman of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and Yun Chung, a respected retired Bechtel metallurgist. Both prepared unsolicited analyses critical of Caltrans.
Under questioning Wednesday, Caltrans' Toll Bridge Project Manager Tony Anziano, said both metallurgists were subsequently contacted: "We've had an opportunity to invite both out to the project, have a conversation about their reports, get some input from them with respect to their views, let them know what we are doing in terms of our testing program, try to get some sense of if they thought we were on the right track. And I think in both instances, they thought that we did."
Chung and Devine have a different perspective: they both say they met only with Anziano, who is a lawyer, not an engineer. (Chung said Anziano canceled three appointments before meeting.) They hoped to talk with Caltrans engineers about the technical aspects of their analyses, but that never happened.
"It was more PR," Chung said. "This is just stonewalling tactics. I'm very disappointed in the whole process."
That's not surprising. The oversight committee repeatedly puts spin before substance, relying on last-minute PowerPoint presentations to the commission rather than the written reports that should be provided. San Francisco Supervisor David Campos, a commission member, insisted Wednesday on advance reports in the future.
The continuing struggle for meaningful information raises questions about what else officials are hiding. So much for transparency and building public trust.