New Bay Bridge Went to China Contractors
To this day, San Francisco is still one of the most beautiful cities in America. I had the pleasure of working in the financial district near Union Square. The city with its Victorian-Edwardian and Spanish Colonial pastel colored homes with blossoming flower beds and plenty of sunshine to Fisherman’s Wharf, so near and dear to all it’s residents and tourists. You can count on oysters florintine for a wonderful lunch by the bay.
Years ago, I commuted to San Francisco City. It wasn’t a long commute and I was very lucky the company I was working for paid for my parking on a monthly basis which was very expensive and extra perk included as part of my job as an Oracle database consultant.
Many of us have had the experience of driving on the most the famous San Francisco “Golden Gate Bridge” constructed in January 5, 1933 and opened May 27, 1937. The height 746′ feet, elevation 220′ feet.
The second most popular and more highly used bridge is the San Francisco “Bay Bridge” which connects San Francisco to Oakland. Many commuters and visitors are dependent upon this bridge to cross over to San Francisco. The Bay Bridge was constructed in July 9, 1933 and opened November 12, 1936. The height 525′ feet.
Adjectives like soaring, breathtaking, jaw dropping are not referring to the new design of the Bay Bridge that finally got completed and not with some hard earned lessons on the political side meandering without a clue. These adjectives are referring the cost and mounting cost it took to design and build the Bay Bridge.
In 1989, there was a 6.9 earthquake that seriously damaged the Bay bridge and unfortunately took innocent lives as a result of this national disaster. This earthquake was set to test the engineering strength of a major infra-structure like the Bay bridge. As a result some of the bridge had to be reinforced and part of it rebuilt. Of course, this would be no small task. This tremendous task to rebuild and reinforce the Bay bridge involved our tax dollars. The initial cost was a low 1.2 Billion dollars, then quite dramatically this cost extended to billions of dollars more, while querulously complaining over budget, political bureaucracy stalling, costing more American tax dollars and jobs. Probably the most damaging was the knowledge of a world class steel facility here in the United States to continue to build and help our infrastructure, where many are now in need of repair or to be rebuild.
This epic tale began with a natural disaster, a monster 6.9 earthquake in 1989 that killed dozens of people, caused billions in damage, and collapsed a portion of the old bay bridge. Engineers said, the bay bridge wouldn’t survive another earthquake. The State Transportation Agency Cal-Trans proposed a sturdy if basic new one and estimated the cost at 1.2 billion dollars, but that was a low ball figure and it was just the beginning.
Roland DeWolk, a veteran journalist and investigator for the California State Senate estimated the real cost was going to be 2.6 billion dollars; before egos got involved. People with influence and power were picturing an iconic structure that somehow would be able to rival the Golden Gate Bridge. Those with influence and power wanting to attach their names and get credit to the new iconic structure. A committee produced this soaring and majestic design which also was very very expensive. At this point Roland DeWolk re-estimated the cost to be 5.3 Billion dollars. Now with 5.3 Billion dollars the building of the bridge took many turns and the work came to a screeching halt.
Karen Tranpenberg Frick is a UC Berkeley Professor wrote “Remaking the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge”. A case of shadowboxing with nature. Then San Francisco’s Mayor Willy Brown, who had big plans for the cities Treasure Island, an undeveloped slab of land at the base of the Bay bridge. Mayor Willy Brown was thinking of building a casino that would generate large revenue. But when he looked at the plans there were no off ramps to Treasure Island. So Mayor Brown said, no ramps, no new bridge and he stopped the project.
Roland DeWolk pointed out that there are almost 280,000 vehicles passing through this bridge daily, with that kind of attitude you’re flirting with disaster. If another earthquake would have occurred, many people’s lives would have been in great danger.
Mayor Brown was also asked if he had any sense of urgency, considering if another earthquake would hit. He said, “No, no sense of urgency, I believed the old structure was adequate; period.” Mayor Brown won the battle and all of this delayed the project for another two years at a cost of a 100 million dollars more.
Until a new player took the stage. When actor turned Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger came into office he thought maybe the state could save some money by going back to the original simpler bridge. In the end, the elaborate design survived and all Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger managed to do was hold construction up for another year. That added another billion dollars to the cost. Certainly not our elected officials saving us dollars. Up to this point the politicians continued flirting with disaster and people’s lives.
In 2005, the State Legislature picked Steve Heninger as the De Facto Head of a new agency, in charge of the new bridge, his orders, finish the job without wasting anymore time or money. In one of the most union friendly states in the country the decision was made let’s by-pass American workers. All we have to do is go to China. China is booming, China has cranes all over Shanghai. They must know about fabricating steel. Heminger’s group hope to save 400 million dollars by having the suspension part of the bridge, the center piece of the project built in China by a steel fabricator ZPMC. ZPMC’s promotional video was set to the Star Trek’s theme were willing to boldly go, to the final frontiers of capitalism.
ZPMC, had never built anything this complex before and whistle blowers later told State Investigators. ZPMC was ZPMC early work on the bridge was dangerously sub-par. Hundreds of cracks in the welts, not up to stuff, doesn’t meet code, doesn’t meet any standard; unacceptable. Those bad welts delayed the bridge another year. And when Cal-Trans demanded that the Chinese step on the gas. The Chinese demanded another 100 million dollars to finish work that had been delayed by poor workmanship. The Cal-trans engineers called it extortion. In the end Cals-Tran paid 243 million dollars more. Steve Heminger as the De Facto said “There was a situation where we were in a stalemate and that stalemate had to be resolved in way or another. Now the fact that we paid them some money doesn’t mean they were holding that steel hostage, it means we resolved a construction dispute.”
Would California have received a better overall deal from an American contractor. Tom Hickland lead a consortion of steel fabricators in Portland that were prepared to bid on the bridge, but watched the Chinese built it. The real take away was that we lost jobs. That we had 3,000 jobs over a five year period during one of the worst economic times in this countries history. This could have supported the middle class, could have supported these people who work hard for a living.
Steve Heninger as the de facto head, said “Tax payers were not going to get a good deal, if we built this project in the United States. We played by the rules fair and square. The fact is that the American Steel industry is not what it used to be, unfortunately. Guys like me have to comply with the federal law. If the American bid is higher are we still suppose to award that with tax payers money.”
Tom Hickland said, “We were going to create a world class fabrication facility, one that would rival any fabrication facility in the world and we didn’t do that.” The world class facility did get built, but it’s in Shanghai, and it’s owned by ZPMC and the Chinese government.
Roland DeWolk said, “ZPMC with our money got to build this huge facility to be able to do this kind of work in the future.” That is the biggest cost the knowledge and future opportunities that would have remained in the United States. All this original estimated to cost 1.2 billion to 6.5 billion dollars. Steve Heninger said, “We borrowed the money and we have to payoff the bonds.” He also admitted, “Did it take to long?” Yes “Did it cost too much money?” Yes. “Our job was to get that bridge built to save life’s.”
KeepingUInformed here at natswritings.com or nataliekeshing.com
©Natalie Keshing, Editor-in-Chief, natswritings.com or nataliekeshing.com