When Will We Learn????
SACRAMENTO, California (AP) — The decision by California transportation officials to hire a Chinese company that had never built a bridge to make key components of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge's eastern section ended up being a costly choice in terms of both dollars and confidence in the span's structural integrity, a newspaper reported Sunday.The Sacramento Bee said an investigation based on its review of more than 100,000 pages of construction records and emails found that the Department of Transportation picked Zhenhua Port Machinery to make the bridge's new signature tower and roadway because officials thought the subcontractor could do the work faster and for $250 million less than the next lowest bidder.
Instead, Caltans ended up paying the Shanghai company millions as a speed incentive even as it spent hundreds of millions more to fix problems with the firm's work, and overruns that exceeded the expected savings and contributed to the bridge's $6.4 billion price tag, the Bee reports.
The newspaper produced a timeline showing that the Chinese company's inexperience with U.S. construction rules became evident early on and that several Caltrans workers expressed concerns over Zhenhua's quality controls and the oversight being provided by the project's prime contractor.
Rather than risking delays, officials approved welding work that did not meet codes and will likely require expensive maintenance to overcome, the Bee said.
Brian Maroney , the chief Caltrans engineer who oversaw the project, defended the choice and said the initial concerns about Zhenhua had made officials extra alert to potential problems and the company had produced excellent results.
Two engineers who worked on the project, one for Caltrans and one employed by a contractor, told a California Senate committee in January that they were reassigned after they voiced objections about Zhenhua's work. They said they do not think the new bridge span that opened on Labor Day is unsafe, but the myriad construction mistakes could lead to expensive future repairs.
The newspaper also concluded that hiring an inexperienced company located so far away from San Francisco led to unnecessary travel costs, including more than $300,000 spent by a Caltrans chief executive who made at least 64 trips to Shanghai and stayed in a top-rated Marriott hotel for $470 a night.
Caltrans told the Bee in a written statement that the executive's accommodations were reasonable and comparable to rates at other western hotels.
Use of Chinese Steel on Verrazanno-Narrows Bridge Project Continues to Spark Concern
But the Metropolitan Transportation Authority says it has "eyes on the ground" in Shanghai, has engaged "welding experts" to oversee the work every six weeks and pledge that "the most stringent quality control" is being observed.
That's the word from Carl Redmond, MTA senior project engineer, who was among a group of MTA officials to present an overview of the project to the Advance Editorial Board.
But sources familiar with the work have told the Advance that the quality assurance sub-consultant to U.S. contractor Tutor Perini, Alta Vista, has pointed to welding issues on the panels, and filed nearly three dozen non-conformance missives which "remain unresolved."
The panels will comprise a new lighter steel orthotropic deck that will replace the 40-year-old concrete grid deck.
Sources note that some 150 panels, out of a total of more than 960 that will be used on the VN, are slated to leave China for the U.S. in late July.
That represents the first shipment of steel for the massive three-year $235 million upper deck replacement project.
Redmond refuted the claims, saying "sophisticated quality control" measures are in place, and that any issues with welding non-conformance "get corrected."
"The fabrication of the panels go through a series of tests," said Redmond. "We are absolutely convinced the quality is high ... No-conformance reports are a tool. There is sophisticated quality control."
In all, 16,000 tons of fabricated Chinese steel will be used on the deck.
Last year, the MTA defended its purchase of more than $2 million worth of the steel, saying the material was essential to provide greater resiliency against excessive wind.
At the time, MTA chairman Thomas Prendergast pointed to an "absence of domestic steel fabricators capable of satisfying the requirements for a project of this scope and complexity."
Tutor Perini hired the Chinese Railway Shanhaiguan Bridge Group to fabricate the steel from steel plate, which has been acquired from Angang Steel Group, China's second-largest steel maker.
The orthotropic deck will be a continuous structure made of lighter-weight steel without expansion joints that can leak and deteriorate. And since the material is just an inch deep, it will be virtually pothole-proof, the MTA says.
It is expected to have a lifespan of 75 years.
Another 3,000 tons of U.S. steel is being used for ancillary uses.