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Warnings Prove Prescient as Chinese Welding Issues Delay Bay Bridge

July 31, 2009 from the National Steel Bridge Alliance

Welding problems at the China-based steel fabricator for the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge have caused a two-month delay in shipping the pieces to the Bay Area, according to Steve Heminger, executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and a member of the panel that oversees bridge construction.

"Bay Area transportation officials are concerned that the delayed steel delivery could push back the completion of the $6.3 billion eastern span, which is now scheduled to open in 2013," according reports in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Back in 2004, the National Steel Bridge Alliance cautioned about circumventing the Buy America bridge provisions and using a Chinese fabricator for this project. The issue developed when the single American bid for the project was higher than expected. But rather than using a value engineering process to optimize the design and decrease costs, it was decided to use a China-based fabricator and Chinese-produced steel. At the time, NSBA officials stated: "It could be redesigned more economically with a U.S.-based collaborative effort." It now appears the result of rejecting that option will be increased costs and substantial delays in project completion.

The welding issues on the steel were first discovered last year but Caltrans and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission thought the issue had been resolved; instead, it now appears the problems are even more serious than originally thought. As a result of finding these new problems, Heminger, incoming Caltrans Director Randell Iwasaki, and Bimla Rhinehart, executive director of the state Transportation Commission, plan to head to China to press their concerns with officials from the steel fabricator and project contractor. As commission spokesman Randy Rentschler explained: "There's nothing like intimate, on-the-ground management to solve problems." And of course, the process would be even simpler if the contractor wasn't located 6,165 miles from the job site.

The welding issues are not the only problems that have occurred with Chinese construction products in the recent past. Last year, rumors surfaced of issues with welds on Chinese hollow structural sections. The rumors were substantial enough that many warehouses stopped stocking Chinese tubes and fabricators with Chinese inventory increased their inspection procedures. Also, the residential construction industry has been hard hit with lawsuits over faulty Chinese drywall which may have been used in as many as 100,000 homes in the United States.

About the National Steel Bridge Alliance

About the NSBA: The National Steel Bridge Alliance (NSBA) is dedicated to advancing the state-of-the-art of steel bridge design and construction. This national, non-profit organization is a unified voice representing the entire steel bridge community. In addition to structural steel fabricators and producers, NSBA brings together the agencies and groups who have a stake in the success of steel bridge construction, including representatives from AASHTO, FHWA, state DOTs, bridge consultants, erectors, and representatives of the coatings, fastener, and welding industries. The NSBA's mission is to establish steel as the material of choice for bridges and the NSBA's goal is to increase steel's share of the bridge market.


For more information contact:

William F. McEleney
Phone: 401-943-5660
Fax: 401-943-5660
[email protected]



American Institute of Steel Construction
The American Institute of Steel Construction, headquartered in Chicago, is a not-for-profit technical institute and trade association established in 1921 to serve the structural steel design community and construction industry. AISC’s mission is to make structural steel the material of choice by being the leader in structural steel-related technical and market-building activities, including: specification and code development, research, education, technical assistance, quality certification, standardization, and market development. AISC has a long tradition of service to the steel construction industry of providing timely and reliable information. 

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