“An outrageous abuse of taxpayer funds” is the National Steel Bridge Alliance’s verdict on the Alaska Railroad Corp.’s plan to use federal funding to buy non-US steel and offshore fabrication for a military bridge project.
Alaska Railroad Corp.
|The Alaska Railroad heads toward Denali National Park.|
The NSBA has issued a detailed statement outlining its objections to the state-owned ARRC’s plan to use funds from the Federal Railroad Administration, Federal Transit Administration, and the Department of Defense to obtain non-domestic sources of steel for the $190 million Tanana River Bridge Crossing project.
‘National Security Project’
The three agencies have already provided $104 million for the crossing, part of the ARRC’s Northern Rail Extension, which would provide the military with its first year-round access to the Joint Pacific Area Range Complex (JPARC) military training grounds.
Efforts are underway “to source the material and fabrication from non-domestic sources,” NSBA said in a release, “and it would be an outrageous abuse of taxpayer funds if the Alaskan Railroad Corporation uses taxpayers' money to support the steel industry overseas for this important national security project when we could be providing jobs for our citizens.”
ARRC spokesman Tim Sullivan said in an email that the company had signed a contract July 24 with Kiewit Infrastructure West Co. of North America for “construction of the Tanana River Crossing as Phase 1 of the planned Northern Rail Extension (NRE) from North Pole to Delta Junction.”
He added: “Kiewit is currently in the process of negotiating contracts for construction materials, and ARRC will ensure that all contracts relating to the construction of the Tanana River Crossing are in compliance with the ‘Buy American Act.’”
Costs, Standards Cited
According to the NSBA:
• There is no need to seek a foreign option for a product “that is routinely and efficiently produced domestically.”
• Federal transportation law has clear “Buy America” provisions that have not been waived for this project.
• ARRC has not provided information concerning the cost of the steel it intends to source overseas, including the cost of the completed fabrication, transportation and contract administration.
• The lower price of foreign steel “is only possible because of exceedingly low worker wage rates and the nearly total absence of any workplace safety or environmental or sustainability standards in their production. This should give ARRC pause in its decision to invest its taxpayer-funded capital in this production.” Moreover, NSBA contends, the eventual total cost of the investment will be similar to U.S. fabrication costs.
Bay Bridge Project Cited
The bridge group compared ARRC's sourcing plan to “the unfortunate decision” by California authorities “to source Oakland Bay Bridge steel from a Chinese producer ostensibly for reasons of cost and more rapid availability when, in fact, the Chinese fabricator had quality problems and has been seriously late in delivering the project, which is now more than three years behind schedule.”
The alliance contends that California has “spent millions in extra funds monitoring the production and fabrication process,” that Californians subsidized thousands of Chinese jobs, and that U.S. bridge fabricators could have done the job within the same time frame and cost.
The alliance has forwarded its objections about the Alaska project to more than two dozen cabinet officials, military leaders, senators and members of Congress. So far, there has been no response.
The National Steel Bridge Alliance, a division of the American Institute of Steel Construction, is a nonprofit group “dedicated to advancing the state-of-the-art of steel bridge design and construction.”
EPA Green-Lights Crossing
Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency has decided not to hold up an Army Corps of Engineers permit for the bridge crossing.
The EPA had objected to the proposed bridge’s location at Salcha due to fish passage and other concerns, but Northwest Regional Administrator Dennis McClerran said in a statement that the agency would not seek a national level review of the Army Corps’ permit.
ARRC had sharply criticized the EPA’s hold-up of the project, saying it threatened “hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in positive economic impacts” on a “critical transportation infrastructure project.”