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Caltrans fires employees amid inquiries into bridge safety testing

November 14, 2011 |  3:15 pm

Caltrans has fired two employees amid investigations into whether structural testing was falsified or performed improperly for bridges and highway structures across the state, including a carpool lane connector and an under-crossing retaining wall  in the Los Angeles area.

During a news conference Monday, Caltrans officials said the two employees were Duane Wiles, a former technician who tested bridge and freeway structures, and Brian Liebich, who supervised Wiles as head of the agency’s foundation testing unit.

Their firings coincide with investigations by the Sacramento Bee newspaper, the Federal Highway Administration and Caltrans. Agency officials said that Wiles was terminated because of the fabrications, while Liebich was fired for “misusing state materials.” Officials declined to comment further about Liebich. They also said they did not know why Wiles falsified test data.

The Bee reported Saturday that at least three fabrications and other errors by Wiles  raised questions about the structural integrity of dozens of bridges and freeway structures in California, including the main tower for the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.


Acting Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty said the agency reexamined the bridge as well as the projects with fabricated test data and concluded that the structures are safe for motorists.

“We went back and reevaluated the work,” Dougherty said. “We looked at all this from an engineering perspective, the redundancy of the construction and the safety factors built into the structures.”

According to the Bee, Wiles failed to verify that his testing equipment was working properly before examining parts of the San Francisco bridge tower's concrete and steel foundation.

Tony Anziano, the toll bridge program manager for Caltrans, said there was no falsification of test data for the Bay Bridge project. Other examinations, he said, showed that the piles are “absolutely fine.”
In Southern California, Wiles reportedly falsified test data in 2007 for a retaining wall at the busy Braddock Drive under crossing for the San Diego Freeway in west Los Angeles. After questions were raised about the validity of the results, Caltrans officials said, the retaining wall was rebuilt. “We were being safe rather than sorry,” Dougherty said.

The Bee’s report raised other questions about the quality of testing in 2006 for a carpool lane connector between State Route 57 and the Pomona Freeway near Diamond Bar. Wiles reportedly did not verify that his equipment was working properly before the tests. Dougherty said Caltrans reviewed the safety of the connector and determined that there was no problem with Wiles’ equipment or the results he obtained.

In another incident, the Bee reported that Wiles had fabricated test results in 2008 for a ramp on the Riverside Freeway at La Sierra Avenue in Riverside. Dougherty said the falsification was discovered and the ramp was retested properly.

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-- Dan Weikel

 

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