The new eastern span of the Bay Bridge.

Caltrans awarded the construction of key elements of the new eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge to a Chinese company that had never built a bridge before, according to a new investigation by the Sacramento Bee based on recently obtained construction records and other documents. We’ll discuss the latest revelations and how they relate to the project’s cost overruns, construction delays and concerns over potential structural issues with the span.

Mark DeSaulnier, California state senator representing the 7th District and chair of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee
Charles Piller, investigative reporter for the Sacramento Bee
Steve Heminger, member of the Bay Bridge Oversight Committee and executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the transportation planning, financing and coordinating agency for the Bay Area

  • jurgispilis

    Why was not the work given to some American firm, and the wages kept here, instead of having that capital fleeing the country. Maybe someone though it would be cost-effective to hire a Chinese company, but in retrospect no other firm could possibly have done a worse job. Was the Chinese company chosen as part of a ‘sweetheart’ deal? Wasn’t there open bidding on the process?

    • Kurt thialfad

      I gotta ask. Who was responsible of awarding the construction contract?

    • Skip Conrad

      Yeah, think of all the unemployed Americans, who could have gotten decent employment on the project. I doubt if it would be humanly possible for them to do a worse job.

    • builder7

      They want the jobs to go to overseas companies because they are cheap. The companies here pocket the difference and the taxpayers are none the wiser. Our politicians and ‘leaders’ have sold us out so why does everybody always except them to do the right thing? They are corrupt and they know it – only you don’t. Money exchanged hands somewhere along the line but the taxpayer will never know!

    • ArnoldLayne

      If the bidding process wasn’t open to public scrutiny, why not? Were laws broken here?

    • Tim

      Because state law requires choosing the lowest bidder. And the lowest bidders are foreign contractors where labor is cheap.

      • MattCA12

        I work for a company that sells to state governments across the country, and from my experience on hundreds of competitive bids, I can say with complete confidence that requiring that state business always goes to the lowest bidder is the very WORST way to select a contractor. Price is merely one factor to be considered, and lawmakers who mandate that state business always goes to the cheapest bidder only tie the hands of decision makers, and, ultimately, the citizenry who must deal with the consequences of “we bought the cheapest option”. Nine times out of ten, that is what they get: cheap. As is the case here.

      • Menelvagor

        State law, nay, national law–should prohibit awarding contracts to foreign companies–our economy is the pitts and Americans need work and we can do it better, arguably, than anyone (except maybe Germans). Not to mention this is about national security as well–financially and militarily.

  • builder7

    So can the bridge be expected to fall into the bay the next time there is an earthquake?

    • Gregory Mountain

      I’m a Union Ironworker local 377 in SF. They should have built in the USA using Union labor shops so most of the money would feed our people.

  • thucy

    I have to admit that I’m fascinated by the disparity in response between coasts. Since autumn, New York and New Jersey have been up in arms over the far less serious matter of the Christie administration bridge closures, with wall-to-wall coverage on local radio and print.

    Conversely, California “skews” the pooch on a bazillion dollar bridge rebuild, and barely an eyebrow is raised.

    All of this reinforces my uneasy certainty that California isn’t less corrupt than shady New Joisey, rather, that residents of “the Golden State” are simply and willfully oblivious to what their elected officials are doing. That is, they’re so focused on surviving their worst-in-place traffic problems, that they can’t identify the underlying structural clusterbleeps.

    • disqus_63X8zNMKNl

      Unfortunately, I think that expecting any construction project to come in on time, built to high standards, without huge delays and enormous cost increases, or without corruption, evasions, cover-ups. is expecting something that rarely happens. Look at the fiasco of the Queen Mary in Long Beach–one person in charge committed suicide when the corruption came to light. Look at the Big Dig in Boston–when it opened, a tunnel collapsed and a woman drowned. Look at any project that can be exploited for money, in other words, any project at all, and you will see the same thing: shoddy work, corruption, cover-ups. What a world.

    • builder7

      So, they are all corrupt – what’s new!

  • Chemist150

    Why is the union heavy, “we’re banning hiring non-San Franciscans”, liberals hiring outside of this country for a huge project?

    Add it to the list of outrageous decisions surrounding this project.

  • Chemist150

    Anyone that uses the excuse that “we were in a hurry” for such large screw ups should be tarred and feathered and place in a stockade where rotten fruit can be hurled at them by the public.

  • Brad Jones

    Pillar’s reporting for the Bee on the Bay Bridge is Pulitzer-worthy and makes clear that Cal Trans just cannot be trusted regarding its claims on the bridge’s construction. Seemingly every 2 or 3 months, some new revelation is made, Cal Trans has to issue some implausible response, and all the while, trust in them is further eroded (in my view).

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    Was Caltrans criminally negligent? This is the Sacramento Bee article with a great graphic to explain the problems:

    ““Transverse” cracks – crossing a weld rather than following its length – which can grow into adjacent base metal and cause a box girder to fail, had become common, according to a June 2008 Caltrans report… Wet welds often mean contamination of the steel with hydrogen, a chief cause for cracks. In several cases, bridge sections had been stored in the rain and filled with water.
    Tack welds were cracking routinely and the cracks often remained underneath the final welds…Those preliminary welds for the box girders, about 3 inches long, hold in place steel parts in preparation for final welds. The head of Caltrans materials testing, testified at the January Senate hearing that the Chinese firm treated contract requirements as “suggestions.”

  • abcbridge

    Welding Orthotropic Box is very specialized and need
    technical knowledge; everything that we are witnessing in case of bay bridge is
    lay person trying to interpret highly technical processes and reporting on it.
    The QA and QC processes that any state agency in the US adopts is extensive;
    and public should have confidence in the process.

    • Chris D.

      Nice try, Shanghai Zhenhua Port Machinery Co. Ltd.

  • erictremont

    It is fiascos like this that have convinced me that the State of California is functionally incapable of carrying out complex, large scale public works projects like High Speed Rail.

    • MattCA12

      I couldn’t agree more. Can you imagine what the ultimate price tag on something like this would be? 10x what they are saying, at minimum. Bullet to the brain train, indeed.

  • Hank Ibser…/consensus
    a general agreement about something : an idea or opinion that is shared by all the people in a group …

    Heninger said repeatedly that there was consensus amongst engineers about safety of leaving cracks in welds yet acknowledged dissenters. There was seemingly no consensus, merely majority opinion.

  • tomahtoe

    “Go fever” is cited as fault for the space shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986. Is that a factor here?

  • rhuberry

    I’m no expert, but it’s hard to believe the ‘experts’ who keep telling us that the faulty welds, questionable concrete, cracked bolts, misaligned roadbed sections, rusting stuff below the railings etc. will have absolutely no effect on the integrity of the bridge. Why have all the construction standards if they don’t make any difference anyway? It’s supposed to last 150 years, but none of us will be around to see if that’s the case so it makes it sound like it is really a sturdy bridge and not to worry.

    And I didn’t like Heminger’s explanation for opening the bridge on Labor Day and awarding the millions in bonuses as being all about public safety on getting people off of the old bridge as soon as possible. The new bridge took over 20 years since the ’89 earthquake to complete, and then many years delayed during the actual construction process itself. Caltrans had no idea if and when an earthquake would happen. A few more days or weeks to actually get it finished as completely as possible and saving the millions of bonus money would not have compromised public safety. That bonus money likely didn’t just go to the contractors.

    • disqus_63X8zNMKNl

      I totally agree with that. Paying millions of extra dollars–which has been done for freeways and other projects as well–to get a job done “on time” is outrageous. The “on time” date is politically motivated, in my opinion. Of course a job shouldn’t languish, running up costs, but as rhuberry says, it’s not as if anyone knew that an earthquake was coming the day after the due date on the bridge. Why on earth should someone get paid extra for doing what they contracted to do in the first place?

    • builder7

      Yeah, if you think that a Chinese company that has never built a bridge can build a good bridge then I got a bridge to sell you in California!

  • Palo Jon

    Let’s rename it the Bendover Bridge. We got exactly the Walmart quality we should have expected, and our civil servants no doubt got their “junkets” along the way.

  • Menelvagor

    I have lived in China for a long time and I can tell you this was a huge immoral mistake. No construction is done right in China. new buildings are falling apart before completion. Bridges collapse everyday. Nothing is safe. Nothing is done right. NOthing. And they dont care. And there is no building codes, no safety regulation. The workers no less and care less. The architects are sub-standard little boys who know much about little. Every building in China is uhhealthy, sick, and unsafe. Why? Why? Would you hire a CHinese company (even one that has built bridges, let alone one that has never built a bridge)? Americans need work. The economy is third-world. Chinese have enormous buying power. The middle class in China is bigger than the entire US. And many many students are entering American universities–taking American seats because they have tremendous buying power. And American universities are being Incorporated and led by fascists. America the whore. Education–VALUES–is not for sale. It cant really be taught in 8 semesters. Lets give our young people a good education–not China. Lower the costs. And lets give American workers jobs. American bridges for Americans. I am a progressive. I am a Green. And I welcome Chinese/Asian tourists–but not usurpers.

  • Jonnie

    Krasny, the unreconstructed reefer smoking ’60s radical is so precious! His stunned incredulity that unionized government employees, in this case CalTrans idiots, can be anything but the screw ups that they are is priceless. The fact they care not a wit for the public good or purse is always a revelation to Krasny; and that they are always in it for the pay and benefits, and opportunities for corruption, never seems to dawn on this most moronic of Bay Area radio personalities.

  • dvtsea

    I wonder if there is anyone, whether involved with this project or a member of the general public, who is surprised that the Chinese manufacturing component was fraught.

    An analysis run last year (in the New York Times, I believe) showed that the promised $250million in savings was minuscule compared to the greater loss to the general economy by sending the project offshore (ie, the ripple effect when a steel worker has a job and money to spend.)

    The bridge committee & contractor have argued that it wasn’t about the $250million in savings, as much as that the Chinese mfr (ZPMC) could promise a shorter lead time. Of course that was a bold, bald-faced lie and ZPMC came in well behind the lead time that U.S. bidders had promised before losing the bid. Subsequent cost increases also wiped out the “savings”.

    There are some decision makers here that should be held accountable and fired.

    From my casual viewpoint, I’ve had a sense from the start that the China decision was in some ways a chance for some local & state transport officials to feel like international big shots: being whisked away on junkets, given royal treatment, etc…
    Reading about the travel routine/expenses of Tony Anziano & staff, reinforces that sense.

    Again, there are some decision makers here that should be held accountable and fired.

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