The Federal Bureau of Investigation has launched a major public corruption investigation of alleged misconduct involving welds in the construction of the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge.
“The complaints consistently allege a pattern of substandard welds affecting a number of (concrete) pilings intended to support the new Eastern span,” said San Francisco FBI Special Agent in Charge Mark Mershon in a written statement.
The investigation is being jointly conducted with the Inspector Generals’ offices of the Departments of Labor and Transportation.
Mershon said the Oakland Tribune, which first published the story earlier this week, had held off publication at the FBI’s request to allow the bureau to pursue “sensitive and sophisticated investigative techniques” before the story broke.
Assemblymember Loni Hancock said she is closely following the investigation.
“This raises a lot of questions, and my concerns are the physical safety of the people who will be using the new span, the enormous additional expenses that come with more construction delays and the integrity of the public works process,” she said.
Costs of the project have escalated enormously, with the current figure set at $6.2 billion.
CalTRANS awarded a $1.4 billion contract to KFM Joint Venture for the first phase of the project, which included the concrete pylons now suspected of housing faulty welds that could jeopardize the seismic safety of the structure.
KFM, CalTRANS and the Cal-OSHA have all stated that the welds were properly done, but welders on the project told the Oakland Tribune that they were told to cover up numerous inadequate welds rather than repair them.
“This raises questions about the competence of CalTRANS to oversee the project and the integrity of a major corporate contractor,” Hancock said.
“I feel confident in the FBI investigation, but the Legislature needs to evaluate the public safety issues and the implications for the immediate construction project,” she said. “How many faulty welds are there, and can they be inspected? What about the ones buried under water?”
The Bay Bridge is the largest public works project in California history.