Bay Bridge

Caltrans asks for retraction of Bee story on Bay Bridge flaws

The California Department of Transportation on Friday called "completely inaccurate" a Bee investigation that raised questions about the structural integrity of the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, and the agency's director publicly requested a retraction.

In a May 27 story, outside experts said construction and testing issues uncovered by The Bee's Charles Piller raised questions about the ability of the bridge to withstand a severe earthquake. The Bee defended the story Friday, calling it accurate and fair.

In a letter to The Bee, Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty said Piller was "given voluminous evidence that contradicts the story's conclusion that the bridge foundations were inadequately tested."

Among other concerns, The Bee found a builder failed to disclose that a 19-foot section of concrete in the bridge's foundation had not hardened before it was tested, preventing further examination or repair.

Caltrans said it did "substantial further examination," including tests showing the concrete had set.

"Every concrete pile in the new bridge's tower foundation has passed three rigorous, mandatory safety tests," Dougherty said in a statement. "The tower foundations were designed to exceed normal safety standards. Every aspect of the bridge has been tested, checked and rechecked multiple times. These tests were reviewed by a panel of internationally renowned experts who have confirmed the integrity and seismic safety of the bridge."

Scott Lebar, The Bee's senior editor for investigations, said in a written statement that Piller's investigation was conducted "in a detailed, fair and accurate way, and we will assess the agency's concerns in the same careful fashion."

"We asked Caltrans officials to talk to us to explain their objections, on the record, and they rejected our request," Lebar said. "In an initial assessment of the written key points made by the agency, we found they misstate what the story reported."

Joyce Terhaar, The Bee's executive editor and senior vice president, said in a statement that "it's unfortunate that public officials are not discussing the issues raised by independent experts and their own documents."

Terhaar said the paper will continue to investigate and hopes that Caltrans officials will meet to discuss any findings.

"The best way to ensure accurate reporting in the public interest is with an open discussion," she said.