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Stop in the Name of Love – of Country

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The conduct of the New York State Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) in rehabilitating the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge can only be described as anti-American.

The MTA plans to send $235.7 million of Americans’ hard-earned toll dollars to China for foreign steel and foreign fabrication to renovate a bridge over the Hudson River that Americans built with American steel and American fabrication 50 years ago.

The MTA must stop. It must stop converting this American landmark – the longest suspension bridge in North America – into a foreign-made object. The MTA must stop. It must stop eroding American manufacturing, spurning American workers and wounding the American economy. The MTA must immediately stop stimulating the Chinese economy, employing Chinese workers with American toll dollars, transferring technological skills overseas and heightening Chinese power over America by enlarging the trade deficit. The MTA must stop, now, and buy American.

It’s the MTA’s contention that it can dodge buy American requirements because it is repairing the bridge with toll dollars, not tax dollars. The MTA used this contrivance to buy 15,000 tons of steel plate from state-owned and subsidized Anshan Iron & Steel Group of China and fabrication work from the China Railway Shanhaiguan Bridge Group.

Responding to criticism that MTA, a government agency, shirked buy American requirements, the authority’s executive director Thomas F. Prendergast said American corporations and workers weren’t capable of doing the work. America is not number one, Prendergast said. American manufacturers and American workers are just not as competent as the Chinese, according to the MTA.

This is exactly what Caltrans contended when it purchased Chinese steel and Chinese manufacturing for the Bay Bridge construction in California – after refusing federal aid so it could duck buy American provisions. Americans just couldn’t do the work, Caltrans contended. And yet, American firms that bid on the project said they could. Caltrans ended up sending dozens of experts to China to babysit its contractors there; inspectors repeatedly discovered defects in welds, and the steel arrived from China 15 months late.

Caltrans said the bid from the consortium of American firms was too high, and the proposal would have delayed the project. But with hundreds of millions in cost overruns and a year’s delay attributable to the foreign purchases, the difference between the two bids at this point is negligible.

But it’s too late now. Caltrans denied American corporations the contracts, American workers the jobs, the American economy the boost. Caltrans contributed to the bleeding of American manufacturing jobs, 6,000 of which were lost just last month. MTA plans to join Caltrans in thwarting the Obama administration’s effort to create 1 million new manufacturing jobs.

With precious little effort, the United Steelworkers found two American bridge fabricators that said they could meet MTA’s requirements for specialized orthotropic steel decking for the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Both are located in eastern Pennsylvania within 100 miles of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge site.

One was cleared by a bonding company, lined up financing and prepared to meet the MTA’s construction schedule. Also in eastern Pennsylvania, Lehigh University’s Advanced Technology for Large Structural Systems Center tested full-scale prototypes of the orthotropic steel panels for the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

Both American bridge fabricators were prepared to use American-made steel, which would employ Americans in good, family-supporting jobs in mills that are required to control emissions and that wouldn’t have contributed to pollution by hauling steel halfway around the world.

MTA ignored all that and went to China for the steel and fabrication. It ignored Americans’ strong desire for government agencies to buy American, with 90 percent of Republicans and Democrats supporting buy American for public works projects. MTA ignored untold hidden costs of buying foreign – including pollution, quality concerns and delays.

And while claiming American companies and American workers are not up to snuff, MTA overlooked the fact that Ansteel of the Anshan Iron & Steel Group has never before produced steel plate of the type required for the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge project. And the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge linking Staten Island and Brooklyn would be only the second in the United States for China Railway Shanhaiguan Bridge Group. In fact, Anshan officials told the Wall Street Journal that the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge project would be a test to determine whether its steel bridges “can go out into the world.”

The MTA decided to go to China even though eight bridges collapsed in China in little over a year, including one of the longest in Northern China, the Yangmingtan Bridge in Harbin last August. That $300 million span was only nine months old.

The MTA has tried to reassure protesters, including Republican and Democrat New York state lawmakers, that there is no risk. Prendergast told them all not to worry, no problem. “The safety of the public is always our paramount concern,” Prendergast contends – exactly what Caltrans said.

MTA officials and construction management staff went to China to make sure everything is ok, Prendergast says. Steel was tested with “good results.” Not great results. But, you know, good ones. Further tests will be done in the United States, Prendergast says. He pledges that MTA will maintain at the Chinese plant “a full time quality assurance presence,” whatever that means.

The upshot is that MTA and its construction manager will pay to send experts and staff to China to try to ensure good quality work, the same way Caltrans did. That’s a costly proposition. In addition, it means that these American professionals will transfer their technical knowledge and skill and expertise to a Chinese company. China won’t have to steal it. MTA plans to give it away.

These same MTA experts and consultants could have been sent less than 100 miles to one of two Pennsylvania firms to oversee quality control and collaborate with American manufacturers.
Any technical skill transfer then would have stayed within the United States, increasing American companies’ ability to complete such infrastructure projects in the future.

The MTA needs to stop this project right now. Think it over, Prendergast.