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Lawmakers call for US steel in bridge

Keywords: Tags  Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, Metropolitan Transportation Authority, MTA, Diane Savino, Nicole Malliotakis, Thomas Prendergast, United Steelworkers union, USW steel

CHICAGO — New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is coming under fire for its plan to use Chinese steel decking to refurbish the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which spans the Hudson River to connect Brooklyn and Staten Island.

In a letter to MTA chairman and chief executive officer Thomas F. Prendergast, a state senator and an assemblywoman expressed "grave concern regarding your decision to use 15,000 tons of steel sourced from China to rebuild the bridge."

"It is shocking that the MTA would ... unnecessarily spend taxpayers’ dollars on foreign labor and materials," Sen. Diane J. Savino (D.) and Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R.) wrote, adding, "We strongly urge you to immediately reconsider this decision."

The MTA awarded a $235.7-million, five-year project to Sylmar, Calif.-based contractor Tutor Perini Corp. last fall.

"Since it began developing specifications for the upper deck replacement two years ago, MTA has worked diligently to find an American steel manufacturer with the capability, experience and desire to fabricate the steel bridge deck," MTA spokeswoman Judie Glave said in a June 21 e-mail to AMM. "Despite reaching out to American steel companies and the General Contractors Association, the MTA could not find an American fabricator" of orthotropic decking, which consists of precast steel panels rather than traditional steel-reinforced concrete

"Delaying the project to accommodate an American fabricator would slow it by up to two years and increase the cost by up to $100 million," Glave said.

The MTA wants to work with the U.S. steel industry "to develop American-made solutions for bridge projects of this scope and complexity," she added.

"It’s a terrible decision," Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers union, told AMM. Perhaps there is no domestic fabricator of orthotropic decking, but "the Chinese company never made them before, either."

"MTA needs to review what happened to the Bay Bridge and others using Chinese components," he said, referring to Chinese-produced and Chinese-fabricated steel used in the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge project.

The Bay Bridge is six years behind schedule and plagued with massive cost overruns, and "many commuters don’t trust it," Gerard said. The California Department of Transportation "had to send American engineers to China to help them figure out how to do it right," he added.

Instead, he suggested, the MTA should "look at the American ingenuity that built the bridges that have lasted 50, 60 and 70 years" and realize that the U.S. steel industry provides superior engineering, quality, efficiency and cost-competitiveness.

The Chinese steel producer and fabricator making the Verrazano decking are state-owned, Gerard noted. "If we sell our steel for a dollar, they sell it for 98 cents," he said.

"MTA is subsidizing the Chinese industry," Gerard said, adding that Chinese industry produces "three times the carbon emissions" the U.S. steel industry does. "There’s no justification whatsoever not to have it built with domestic steel, domestic engineering and domestic fabricating."

The USW will take action by building alliances, advertising on prominently placed billboards—as it did in the Bay area—having union workers carry signs near the bridge and launching a letter-writing campaign to New York and federal authorities, Gerard added.

Editor's Note: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Chinese-produced steel anchor rods failed after being installed in the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers union, did not specifically refer to any current problems with construction of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in his interview with AMM, but did note the project’s "broad" history of "being behind schedule, plagued with cost overruns and causing California commuters to lack confidence in a bridge that was primarily produced and fabricated in China," a USW spokesman clarified on June 24.

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