As we prepare for another update Wednesday from executives in charge of construction of the new Bay Bridge span, once again the process is shrouded in secrecy.

No basic written reports or updates have been provided to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to review in advance of its meeting. The opaqueness leaves commissioners and the public only partially informed at a time when the integrity of the new $6.4 billion span remains at issue.

As San Francisco Supervisor David Campos, a member of the transportation commission, noted earlier this month, "I feel we have actually gotten more information from the press."

Two workers climb the cable on the Bay Bridge eastern span as other crews began work fixing the problem of broken rods on the shear keys with the
Two workers climb the cable on the Bay Bridge eastern span as other crews began work fixing the problem of broken rods on the shear keys with the installation of a saddle on Thursday afternoon May 23, 2013 in San Francisco, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

He's right. But commissioners must recognize their own complicity. They have failed to demand the sort of written staff reports common at any other local government agency, or even at MTC when other projects are at issue.

Oversight of the bridge construction has been placed in the hands of the "Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee," a three-member panel created by state legislation in 2005 that goes by the acronym TBPOC.

The committee, which operates in secret, consists of the executive directors of the state Department of Transportation (Malcolm Dougherty), the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (Steve Heminger) and the California Transportation Commission (Andre Boutros).


Advertisement

There are two key checks on TBPOC. First, Gov. Jerry Brown is ultimately responsible for the state Department of Transportation. Second, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission controls the purse strings. If not for its open hearings, the public would be completely in the dark.

MTC should insist on complete public information. But what we've seen so far at its meetings has fallen far short.

Dougherty, Heminger and Boutros appear before the commission each time with a slide presentation. The slides themselves lack detailed information critical to understanding the issues. The verbal comments by the trio often sidestep key issues. The three contradict each other, and Dougherty even contradicts himself.

Dougherty and his agency present the biggest problem. Caltrans runs the day-to-day bridge construction operations. It makes the key engineering decisions, including the ones that brought us to the current fiasco. Yet, it remains an insular organization unable to explain its actions to the outside world. That would be the world that is paying for the bridge.

Fortunately, it is not the only player here. We appreciate that much work is going into the ongoing analysis of what went wrong. As we've previously said, it must be subjected to independent outside review. In the meantime, decisions on some fixes are moving forward without publicly vetted written justification.

In this video-driven era, we still believe in the great value of printed words. They require careful thought and produce greater clarity, not to mention accountability. Transportation commission members should settle for no less.