As more information trickles out about the new span of the Bay Bridge, the worse things look. It seems that we're witnessing the results of a systemic breakdown by the state Department of Transportation.

Violations of its own construction standards. Inadequate recordkeeping. Failure to test in some cases. Faulty testing in others. Horrible communication, internally with contractors and externally with regional transportation officials, state lawmakers, the press and the public.

Oh yes, the bridge cost is six times the original price and is now a decade behind schedule.

If not for journalists at the San Francisco Chronicle, the Sacramento Bee and this newspaper, the public might never have known the extent of the problems that plague the $6.4 billion project.

The reporters' work calls into question the integrity of the roadway, the effectiveness of high-tension connections at the eastern end of the span, the stability of the signature tower and the long-range strength of thousands of bolts that help hold the bridge together. With each new investigative article, with each release of documents under the state Public Records Act, we learn of more disturbing issues.

The ultimate boss, Gov. Jerry Brown, wrote off concerns with a now infamous scatological remark that suggests these problems were par for the course and not significant. But outside engineers who reviewed records in recent weeks drew very different conclusions.

The mistakes could render seismically unsafe the bridge that was designed to protect motorists traveling across San Francisco Bay when the next big earthquake strikes.

We worry about whether Caltrans can be trusted to heed the advice of outside experts. For example, the department had touted its own three-member peer-review panel, especially civil engineer John Fisher, who is known for his analysis of the failure of the World Trade Center in 2001.

But when Fisher called for replacing bolts vulnerable to cracking because of their hardness, Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty responded with a statement that sidestepped the recommendation.

We're pleased that the governor this week finally dropped his dismissive thinking and said safety must come first. That's more appropriate than his original response. But words alone will not be enough.

This bridge must not open until independent experts rule that it's safe. Meanwhile, the probes must not end until Caltrans fully and satisfactorily documents who made the faulty decisions, when and why -- and until anyone who failed to perform quality work faces appropriate discipline.

If Caltrans can't produce the paper trail, a grand jury or the state auditor should step in.

We've waited more than two decades; we can wait longer if it means getting it right. And we don't care about Labor Day schedule for the grand opening party. Frankly, we're not in a celebratory mood.