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Caltrans fires two over structural testing issues

The move comes amid probes into faulty or falsified tests on various projects, including in the L.A. area.

November 15, 2011|By Dan Weikel, Los Angeles Times

Caltrans has fired two employees amid investigations into faulty — and in some instances falsified — structural testing on bridges and highway projects 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 identified the employees as 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.

The firings coincide with investigations by the Sacramento Bee newspaper, the Federal Highway Administration and Caltrans. Agency officials said Wiles was terminated because of fabrications and Liebich was fired for "misusing state materials." Officials declined to elaborate on 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 integrity of dozens of bridges and freeway structures in California, including the main tower of the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

Acting Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty said the agency reexamined the Bay Bridge tower, as well as projects with fabricated test data, and concluded that they are structurally sound.

"We looked at all this from an engineering perspective, the redundancy of the construction and the safety factors built into the structures," he said.

According to the Bee, Wiles failed to verify that his testing equipment was working properly before examining the concrete and steel foundation of the Bay Bridge tower. Tony Anziano, the toll bridge program manager for Caltrans, said no test data on the bridge had been falsified. Other examinations, he said, showed that the bridge's piles are "absolutely fine."

In Southern California, Wiles reportedly falsified 2007 test data for a retaining wall at the Braddock Drive under-crossing for the San Diego Freeway in West Los Angeles. After questions were raised, Caltrans officials said, the wall was rebuilt.

The Bee's report also raised questions about testing in 2006 for a carpool lane connector between State Route 57 and the Pomona Freeway near Diamond Bar. Wiles reportedly failed to ensure that his equipment was working properly. A Caltrans review found that the connector is safe and found no evidence of problems with Wiles' equipment or the results he obtained, officials said.

Wiles also fabricated test results in 2008 for a ramp on the Riverside Freeway at La Sierra Avenue in Riverside, the Bee reported. Dougherty said the falsification was discovered and the ramp was satisfactorily retested.

dan.weikel@latimes.com

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