The structural integrity of the $6.3 billion new east span of the Bay Bridge was not undermined by a Caltrans inspector who submitted false data on three other projects -- but not the Bay Bridge, an outside panel of engineers has concluded.

Meanwhile, a Sacramento Bee story raised questions about the objectivity of that four-person engineering panel.

Respected as they are in their field, three of the four panelists have worked for Caltrans or its contractors, and three helped select the design for the span, the Bee reported in a story Sunday.

The panel was asked to provide an independent opinion of the new Bay Bridge safety in light of disclosures that a Caltrans inspector who had submitted fake quality control data on three other projects also had performed tests on the new east span foundation in 2006 and 2007.

Caltrans last year fired the inspector, Duane Wiles, although the firing was later withdrawn and Wiles was allowed to retire.

On Friday, the Toll Bridge Seismic Safety Peer Review Panel released its report, finding no evidence of faulty data on tests checking structural integrity of concrete in the new Bay Bridge foundation.

"It is highly unlikely that any data falsification occurred," wrote Joseph Nicoletti, a Bay Area structural engineer who heads the panel. "We find that the design contains a significant amount of redundancy and has a large margin of safety against unforeseen events."

In the previous jobs for which Wiles turned in faked data, state officials said Wiles was caught cutting corners when Caltrans realized he was duplicating data from old tests and submitting it as the validation for new construction work.


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After Wiles' work elsewhere came under suspicion, Caltrans ran checks of his data from the Bay Bridge foundation and found no duplication from test to test, the panel wrote.

The panelists also found that the bridge contractor had run a second type of test and found no signs of trouble.

In its story Sunday, The Bee quoted government ethics experts as questioning the impartiality of panelists because they had worked for Caltrans and its contractors.

In response, Steve Heminger, executive director of the Bay Area Toll Authority, said Monday that the panelists have a track record of giving independent advice even if it isn't what Caltrans wants to hear.

"They are hardly acting like patsies," Heminger said. "The peer review has worked well for Caltrans and it has saved taxpayers tens of millions of dollars."

In addition to Nicoletti, the review panel includes Frieder Seible, dean of engineering at UC San Diego, Izaat M. Idriss, a consulting geotechnical engineer and professor emeritus at UC Davis, and John Fisher, professor emeritus of civil engineering at Lehigh University.

The panel was called in to do the review by the directors of Caltrans, the state Transportation Commission and the Bay Area Toll Authority.

Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267. Follow him at Twitter.com/deniscuff.