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Top Transportation Officials Grilled Over Alleged Conspiracy Of Hiding Bay Bridge Problems

SACRAMENTO (KCBS) -- A state legislative committee is conducting a hearing into the construction of the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge after a report issued last week found that officials with the state transportation department conspired to keep problems secret.

The $6.5 billion span, years overdue and badly over budget, has been dogged by allegations of faulty construction, including corroded bolts and weak welds done by a Chinese company.

The State Senate Transportation and Housing Committee grilled top California transportation officials during a panel hearing over allegations Caltrans gagged and banished nine engineers who raised concerns over the delayed project by either reassigning or demoting them.

State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, who called the hearing, said a recently-released Senate investigative report shows how the California Department of Transportation knowingly accepted substandard work by a Chinese firm that welded most of the new roadway and tower.

The Concord Democrat is calling for a criminal investigation into the construction issues.

DeSaulnier said new witnesses will corroborate earlier testimony about the welding problems and issues with the concrete foundation of the span's iconic tower.

Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty said the new span has been the subject of many reviews already and his agency would embrace further oversight.

The hearing got underway at 1:30 p.m. in Sacramento. California State Transportation Agency Secretary Brian Kelley said steps were already being taken to increase transparency for major projects.

"Among the most important lessons learned from this experience, which I credit this committee for being the first to identify is the importance of transparency from beginning to end on a mega project like the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge," he said.

Transportation officials denied that any dissenting engineers faced retaliation. Toll Bridge Program Manager Tony Anziano said their concerns were discussed.

"Their concerns were not ignored. They were actually discussed over an extended period and I strongly believe, resolved," he said.

Transportation officials also ensured that the new eastern span of the bridge is safe and an improvement over the aging span it replaced.

TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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