The Times learned that Bay Area Rapid Transit agency officials have issued a job arrest warrant to a key engineering firm, San Francisco-based PGH Wong, as it conducts a conflict of interest review involving an issue of staff.
On Friday, the transit agency ordered the company “to suspend all work as BART and PGH Wong investigate a potential conflict of interest,” agency spokeswoman Alicia Trost said. “So far we have not found evidence of bad faith.”
California engineering industry sources familiar with the construction shutdown order called it a very unusual move in one of the nation’s largest mass transit systems.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said a senior executive at an engineering firm who was not authorized to speak to the media and asked for anonymity. The official said such strong action indicates a potentially serious problem and that a BART employee is at the center of the review. Another industry executive, who disclosed the matter to the Times, said a letter was sent to BART officials raising the matter.
Trost, BART’s communications manager, declined to provide details of the review. “We will not comment on staff matters,” she said. “No employee was suspended”.
Wong has long provided engineering and consulting services to the BART system, including construction management services, architectural services, engineering for the district capital improvement program, and aid in rebuilding projects across the region.
Like many public project consultants, the company is deeply rooted in the BART organization. Within a week of the order to stop work being issued, it is still unclear how long the overhaul will take.
“The level of impact this will cause to projects is not yet clear, and BART staff are currently working to develop strategies to minimize the impacts,” said Trost.
He said the agency “has had a long and successful partnership with PGH Wong Engineering in carrying out rail transport projects.”
PGH Wong is highly regarded in the world of transportation and construction engineering, industry executives said. The private company was founded by Peter Wong in 1985 and now runs it with his two sons.
The company released a statement on Friday noting its long-standing relationship with the transit agency but offered no details on the stop-work order. “We look forward to resolving this issue quickly with BART and moving forward with the important support work for BART,” the statement said.
BART has relied on PGH Wong for decades. The transportation system was designed by San Francisco-based Bechel with the help of former Parsons Brinckerhoff, now WSP. Wong was an electrical engineer for Bechtel before starting his own company. Since then, the company has won numerous awards for its projects and has become a key player in the BART system.
The company operates nationwide, but primarily in the West. He acts as the construction manager for a troubled 31-mile segment of the California bullet train system in Fresno. He is a key player in airport projects, a light rail system under construction in Honolulu, and is the principal electrification engineer for the Bay Area’s Caltrain commuter rail system.
It is also a partner in a joint venture in the six-mile BART extension from Berryessa to Santa Clara, a $ 6.9 billion project of the Valley Transportation Authority. That job is apparently unaffected by the job termination order. He also played an important role in the first phase of the project from Freemont to Berryessa, which is now operational.