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Light poles await to be turned on during a lighting system preview by Caltrans on the new east span of the Bay Bridge on Thursday, July 26, 2012, in San Francisco Calif. There are 273 light poles with 1521 light fixtures for a total of more than 48 LEDs in the lighting system. The custom-made lights will create a safer driving experience for motorists by spreading a bright, uniform glow across the roadway and simultaneously minimizing glare and light pollution. While enhancing the bridge's safety, the lighting elements were also designed to reflect the aesthetics of the Self-Anchored Suspension Span's main tower. The lighting system, which was innovated by Iowa-based Musco Sports Lighting and Nebraska-based Valmont Industries The original lighting design was conceived by Howard Brandston, developed by Moffat & Nichol and Parsons Brinckerhoff and placed by Bleyco Inc.. Ray Chavez/Staff)

SACRAMENTO -- State Senate transportation leaders on Tuesday called for an independent review of the seismic safety of the massive underwater foundation beneath the tower of the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge.

During a three-hour hearing to address questions raised in news stories about a rogue state inspector's falsified concrete testing data on Bay Area bridges, Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, and member Sen. Joe Simitian, D-San Jose, agreed a third-party analysis is necessary.

It's too late to appease the worried public with assurances from the same people who are building the $6.4 billion span, the lawmakers said.

"You have to take the time and hand this off to a third party," Simitian told Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty. "Hustling to finish the bridge with a cloud of suspicion over the project doesn't serve you well .... Sometimes you have to go slow before you can go fast."

"We have to make sure that we have the confidence of the driving public that this is the bridge we envisioned in terms of public safety," DeSaulnier said.

The committee will work with the Legislative Analysts Office to devise an independent review process along with other possible oversight requirements. The package would come back before the committee in the fall. With few details, it's unclear how much a review will cost although the toll-payers will mostly likely foot the bill.

The committee's intervention comes in the wake of revelations in a series of Sacramento Bee stories about a Caltrans inspector who doctored concrete test data during the construction of Bay Area bridges. The articles raise questions about whether fabricated results compromise the new span's structural integrity.

As he has for months, Dougherty continued to reject any assertions of safety concerns and reminded lawmakers of the extensive peer review already conducted on the bridge.

He had plenty of company.

The top two engineers in the state's toll bridge program, a Federal Highway Administration executive and a renowned international bridge engineer who leads California's seismic safety panel all reiterated what the agency has been officially saying for months: The Bay Bridge is safe.

The result of a federal and state review of all tests conducted by the former inspector will be finished this fall but Dougherty said they have found no evidence that this employee's work on the Bay Bridge is suspect.

All concrete strength tests on the foundations' 13 pilings met state specifications and even if the 19-foot segment in question is faulty, the bridge was designed to contains major redundancies that more than compensate for any deficiencies, Dougherty added.

Veteran Caltrans chief bridge engineer Brian Maroney even brought show-and-tell items for the committee:

  • An incredibly hard two-foot long rock core sample brought up from 185 feet below the water's surface where the world's largest single-tower self-anchored suspension span is attached to bedrock.

  • A pebble like the tens of thousands of pieces of tiny aggregate used to strengthen the concrete poured into the 13 pilings that make up the base of the foundation.

  • A half-dozen charts displaying the results of multiple favorable concrete tests and highly sophisticated computer modeling that shows the bridge will remain usable after a major earthquake, a higher standard than anywhere else in the nation.

    "I can assure you there is not a single structure where more analysis, more testing or more independent review has been done than on the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge," said Frieder Seible, dean of the engineering school at the University of California at San Diego, chairman of the Caltrans' Seismic Advisory Board and designer of dozens of bridges around the world. "This is where I derive my comfort in saying the bridge is seismically safe."

    Seible urged the state to avoid undertaking any third-party review that would delay the eastern span's scheduled Labor Day 2013 opening, noting that the existing 1936 bridge is a known seismic hazard.

    "An earthquake waits for no one," Seible said."

    Contact Lisa Vorderbrueggen at 925-945-4773, Twitter @lvorderbrueggen or www.facebook.com/lvorderbrueggen.

    BAY BRIDGE TIMELINE
    Nov. 12, 1936: San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge opens to traffic.
    Oct. 17, 1989: Loma Prieta earthquake sheers bolts on a portion of the upper deck, causing a 50-foot, 250-ton section of the upper deck to collapse. One motorist dies.
    September 1996: Estimates put the cost of a new eastern span at a range of $902 million to $1.4 billion depending on design.
    2001: Construction cost estimates soar to $3.04 billion.
    2004: The price tag jumps again -- to $5.1 billion -- when the global steel market tightens.
    July 2005: In an attempt to staunch cost overruns, Legislature creates the three-pronged Toll Bridge Project Oversight Committee, comprised of Caltrans, Metropolitan Transportation Commission (acting as the Bay Area Toll Authority) and the California Transportation Commission.
    2005 through June 2012: Costs continue to escalate but at a lesser rate, rising from $5.4 billion in October 2005 to $6.41 billion as of June.
    Labor Day, 2013: Estimated completion date.
    Source: BANG research