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Caltrans Is Faulted on Bay Bridge Overruns

From Associated Press

The California Department of Transportation failed to adequately manage the ballooning costs of building a new eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, according to a state auditor’s report released Wednesday.

The report by State Auditor Elaine M. Howle found that the estimated cost for Caltrans’ Toll Bridge Seismic Retrofit Program, which covers seven state-owned bridges, has risen by $3.2 billion to $8.3 billion since its budget was set in April 2001.

Much of the increase, $2.5 billion, was for the replacement span of the Bay Bridge.

The cost overruns were attributed to rising prices for construction materials and contractor services, lengthy delays in construction and the need to increase contingency funds for unexpected costs.

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Howle’s report criticized Caltrans for failing to develop a comprehensive plan to track and manage costs and risks associated with building the eastern span, whose price tag has spiraled to $5.1 billion from $2.6 billion.

Caltrans also failed to keep the Legislature informed about cost projections as required by state law and didn’t disclose the cost overruns until August, long after the agency it should have known about them, the report said.

“Had it been monitoring the program’s costs regularly, Caltrans would have realized much earlier that the program was exceeding its budget,” Howle wrote in the 94-page report.

Caltrans officials said they welcomed the report’s findings, which they will use to improve the agency’s practices. They pointed out that the report found that all the money was spent properly and that most of the cost increases were driven by factors outside the agency’s control.

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Responding to the report, Bay Area leaders said Caltrans must reform its management practices before the project moves forward.

“It’s a scathing criticism of Caltrans for a massive failure in managing this project,” said Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. “The report says, ‘Stop pointing fingers at the Bay Area and stop trying to punish the Bay Area.’ ”

Torlakson said the state should pay 50% of the cost overruns because the report shows that Caltrans failed to properly manage the project.

The Schwarzenegger administration has said it wants the Bay Area to pay 80% of those costs, mostly through higher bridge tolls.

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