The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, an American icon, will be sporting a “Made in China” sticker—figuratively speaking, at least.
China’s biggest heavy machinery maker has put the final touches on sections of the new East Span of the Bay Bridge— the biggest project so far for state-run Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries, a unit of China Communications Construction Co.
|Construction on the bridge began in 1933.|
California outsourced manufacturing of the main parts of the bridge to Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries to save $400 million on labor and materials.
‘Who Built It?’
The company won the project in 2006 with a $250 million bid. Company officials say they will profit little on the project but believe the payoff will come in helping to establish China as a world-class construction safety and quality concern.
“The U.S. is the world’s most advanced country, and the San Francisco Bay Bridge will be a bridge of the highest quality,” said Zhenhua’s chief executive, Zhou Jichang.
“We believe this bridge is very important. When people see it, they will ask, ‘who built it?’ “This will really raise our brand image.”
Steel Girders and Tower
Zhenhua is fabricating the steel girders and tower for the new $7.2 billion East Span of the bridge, which is undergoing a seismic retrofit to improve its earthquake resistance after a 250-ton section collapsed in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
The last four steel segments for the new suspension bridge are a week into their 22-day Pacific Ocean journey from Shanghai to San Francisco, where the 5,300 tons of modules will be joined with 24 other sections—each half the size of a football field—already in place, Bloomberg News reports.
The new structure will be the world’s longest single-tower, self-anchored suspension bridge, stretching 2,047 feet (624 meters). The span will have a single, 525-foot tower, anchored to bedrock and supported by a single, enormous steel-wire cable that threads through the suspension bridge. The span will include two parallel five-lane roadways and a 1.2-mile viaduct.
|The new span’s single Self-Anchored Suspension span tower will be 525 feet tall. Workers placed the world’s largest cable saddle atop the tower in May.|
The project will ultimately reinforce and rebuild each section of the bridge, which opened in 1936. The rebuilt span is due to open in 2013, when the current span will be demolished.
“We wanted something strong and secure, but we also wanted something iconic,” said Bart Ney, a transportation department spokesman.
“They’ve produced a pretty impressive bridge for us,” Tony Anziano, a program manager at the California Department of Transportation, told the New York Times recently while touring the 1.2-square-mile manufacturing site that the Chinese company created to do the bridge work. “Four years ago, there were just steel plates here and lots of orange groves.”
Bloomberg says the company completed the work five months ahead of schedule, employing up to 2,500 workers at peak times, including 1,000 welders, who gained U.S. qualifications specifically for the work, according to the company’s chairman.
Another Chinese company, Shanghai Pujiang Cable Co., made the mile-long main cable for the bridge, Zhou said.
The assembly work in California, and the pouring of the concrete road surface, will be done by Americans.
American steelworker unions have disparaged the Bay Bridge contract by accusing the state of California of sending good jobs overseas and settling for what they deride as poor-quality Chinese steel, the New York Times notes. Industry groups in the United States and other countries have raised questions about the safety and quality of Chinese workmanship on such projects.
Nevertheless, Chinese construction and engineering are assuming a greater presence in the United States.
In New York City alone, Chinese companies have won contracts to help renovate the subway system, refurbish the Alexander Hamilton Bridge over the Harlem River, and build a new Metro-North train platform near Yankee Stadium, the Times reports. As with the Bay Bridge, American union labor would carry out most of the work done on U.S. soil.
“Chinese engineering companies’ expertise has improved rapidly, thanks to their heavy investments in research and development,” Hou Yankun, an analyst at Nomura International Hong Kong Ltd., told Bloomberg. “They realize they can’t be competitive in the long term just by making low-skill products.”
Complete information about the Bay Bridge reconstruction, including 360-degree construction video, is available at http://baybridgeinfo.org/.