FBI starts investigation of charges of shoddy work on new SF Bay bridge

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April 7, 2005

In the above file illustration, the long yellow portion at the upper right represents the skyway of a new $1.5 billion Bay Bridge span. The "T"-shaped objects in the lower right corner represent the piers with the alleged substandard welds. Source: Caltrans

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating allegations of wrongdoing in the building of a new $1.5 billion "skyway" portion of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, according to a report published in the Oakland Tribune. The bridge spans the San Francisco Bay between Oakland and Yerba Buena Island. There are so far no criminal charges filed.

The paper reported that welders for KFM, the company under contract to build the bridge, told authorities they were pressured – and even paid monthly bonuses of between $200 and $600 – for performing substandard welds on the support piers for the bridge if it meant the project proceeded faster. But Caltrans, the state agency in charge of building the bridge said their inspectors checked the welds and determined the work, although rushed, met safety standards.

"We've got good welds, good procedures and everything is in place to have a quality product. If a defect got in, we can't find it," Pete Siegenthaler, Caltrans project manager told the Tribune in an interview. A KFM spokesman told the Tribune that the welds are in "compliance with stringent Caltrans specifications."

According to a report by Oakland television station, KTVU, the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Transportation are joining the FBI in the investigation of the matter. The federal government is getting involved in the investigation because more than $1 million in U.S. taxpayer money was spent during its construction.

If questionable welds are found in the support piers, according to reports, much of the new construction may have to be torn down to be rebuilt.

The current 68-year-old span was damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. At $6.2 billion total, the new bridge qualifies as the largest public works project in California's history.