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Closed-Door Hearings Begin on Safety of Subway Tunnels

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

The proceedings of a special panel of experts appointed to examine the structural soundness and durability of portions of the new Los Angeles subway have begun in private and no public hearings are planned, transit officials said Tuesday.

Franklin E. White, chief executive officer of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said the panel of three experts will meet privately because the work to be performed is investigatory in nature.

“However,” White said, “the panel is obviously very interested in hearing from anybody who has information which is relevant to the determination that they have to make.”

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Speaking at a news conference attended by the three panel members, White and MTA Chairman Richard Alatorre, also a Los Angeles City Council member, said they expect the group to report its findings within 12 weeks. White and Alatorre named the panel in response to a Times article reporting that numerous sections of the tunnels were built with concrete thinner than the design-specified 12 inches.

White and the chairman of the tunnel panel, University of Illinois Professor Edward J. Cording, said the primary focus will be on the structural soundness of the twin, steel-reinforced concrete tunnels between Union Station and Pershing Square.

“Is the design adequate to ensure structural integrity?” Cording asked, in describing the task before the panel. “Does it have a structural integrity in its constructed state? In other words, is it structurally safe? Will it remain so over the long term?”

White said he expects the panel to weigh the implications posed by water leaking into the tunnels, which some experts believe contains hydrogen sulfide, a highly corrosive agent. Such water could corrode rods of reinforcing steel and crumble surrounding concrete, structural engineers say.

“That will be a matter that the panel will discuss,” White said. “If there is a concern that the water may shorten the expected life of this tunnel, the answer is absolutely yes (it should be focused on).”

The panel met for the first time on Monday. According to aides to White, panel members conferred with representatives of the subway contractor, Tutor-Saliba Corp., and with MTA rail construction staff officials. The panel took a tour of the tunnels Monday night. Leaks in the structures were grouted over the past week by Tutor-Saliba.

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Cording, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, said Tuesday that the panel would review documentation, interview people involved with and familiar with the construction, and perhaps oversee new testing of the structures.

Later in the day, the panel met for about one hour with Michael Quint, an engineer and former quality control inspector for Parsons-Dillingham, the private firm paid more than $150 million to oversee construction of the 4.4-mile subway. Quint, who is suing Parsons-Dillingham for wrongful termination, said he urged the panel to commission its own radar testing of the tunnels and to directly oversee follow-up corings of the concrete.

White indicated last month when he appointed the tunnel panel that he wanted the group to review the performance of Parsons-Dillingham. He said Tuesday that he is now less certain how to proceed.

“An adjunct, or separate, group may have to be assembled to look at a number of contract compliance and legal issues which (tunnel panel members) raise, which are beyond the issue of structural integrity,” White said.

White also said some of the panel’s proceedings are being attended by consultants to the Federal Transit Administration. But White said engineers with the California Department of Transportation have not attended thus far, although he said last month that the state agency would provide advice on “local construction conditions.” As now structured, the panel has not retained a seismologist for earthquake-related advice.

White said that Caltrans will play a supportive role and that the tunnel panel would be able to retain whatever experts members believe are necessary.

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