SEATTLE – A subcontractor who worked on Sound Transit’s light rail line from Seattle to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport lied about the strength of steel casings he provided, but engineers say the weaker material poses no hazard.
David Appleby, the president of Appleby NW Inc. of Granite Falls, pleaded guilty Thursday in U.S. District Court to making and using false documents, admitting he falsified test results concerning the strength of the steel. He faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The 150-plus casings he built served as forms for reinforced-concrete columns supporting four miles of elevated track from the Rainier Valley to Tukwila.
Sound Transit’s contract specifications called for grade 50 steel, which yields at 50,000 pounds of pressure per square inch, but in most cases Appleby used grade 36, which yields at 36,000 ppsi.
Sound Transit spokesman Bruce Gray said Thursday the agency did not need to replace the casings because the contract specifications were written in an abundance of caution. Studies commissioned by Sound Transit, the Federal Transit Administration and Appleby’s lawyers all found that the lower-grade steel is still plenty safe.
“Good design on a project like this will always err conservatively on the side of safety and caution,” Gray said. “The structural stability and seismic stability and long-term operational stability meet our requirements.”
Charging papers say Appleby altered test results to conceal that the steel he purchased in 2005 and 2006 from Oregon Steel Mills in Portland did not meet contract specifications.
The investigation began when a competitor, noticing that Appleby was providing vast amounts of 50-grade steel at a time when the product was in short supply, reported that observation to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The department’s inspector general and the FBI conducted the investigation.
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