Report: Caltrans decision to hire inexperienced Chinese firm for Bay Bridge welding “will haunt” travelers “for generations”

Updated Jun 11, 2014
The eastern span of the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge under construction. The bridge was opened to traffic on Labor Day last year.The eastern span of the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge under construction. The bridge was opened to traffic on Labor Day last year.

A detailed investigative report from the Sacramento Bee has found that the California Department of Transportation’s decision to hire a Chinese firm with no experience building bridges to construct key parts of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, “will haunt the new span and the traveling public for generations to come.”

Construction on the bridge was completed last year at a cost of around $6.5 billion. That final cost was much higher than originally anticipated after years of construction delays. In January, a state investigation found that Caltrans â€śsystematically” worked to quiet “serious allegations” aimed at the safety of the bridge’s construction.

The company Caltrans hired, Shanghai Zhenhua Port Machinery Co. Ltd., had only built cranes for shipping ports. However, the company, known as ZPMC, offered a savings of $250 million over its nearest competitor’s bid. That savings and a reputation for speed sold Caltrans on the idea despite Jim Merrill, a senior materials contractor for the bridge deeming the company “high risk” and giving them only a “contingent pass” as to whether they could do the job.

Merrill also found that ZPMC didn’t have enough qualified welders or inspectors and routinely performed welds in the rain.

The Bee investigation found Caltrans documents that detailed how the agency overrode bridge welding codes and “near-universal requirements for new bridge construction” when it decided that cracks found in many of ZPMC’s welds were “inconsequential” and did not require the work to be redone in order to keep up the pace of construction.

The state’s Senate Transportation and Housing Committee along with the California Highway Patrol are currently investigating the way Caltrans dealt with the welding imperfections.

The paper has also reported that the bridge has broken anchor rods and that its foundation is formed of a suspect concrete. But the inadequacies detailed by this new report are very extensive, beginning all the way back in 2006 when ZPMC violated its contract by delivering key documents in Chinese instead of English and was overall found to lack  â€śbasic quality control.” And when confronted over its lack of quality control, Caltrans found ZPMC to be very defiant over conforming to stricter standards than they were used to.

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You can read the full Sacramento Bee investigation by clicking here.