Use Of China Steel For Verrazano Bridge Project Raises Questions

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The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is due for a face-lift. The nearly 50-year-old double-decker suspension bridge that connects the Staten Island Expressway with the Gowanus Expressway and the Belt Parkway has been deemed structurally deficient.

Last year, the MTA awarded a $235 million contract to California general contracting firm Tutor Perini to replace the Verrazano Bridge’s upper concrete roadway with steel. Tutor Perini reportedly has contracted with a China-based steel manufacturer for the 15,000 tons of steel required to complete the project.

The bridge upgrade includes replacing its heavy concrete upper deck with lighter, stiffer (orthotropic) steel plates designed with a balance of stiffness and flexibility to prevent buckling and withstand Atlantic Ocean winds.

Only one U.S.- based company can produce orthotropic plates — which it makes with U.S. steel — but it could not compete with China on price. China has become the world’s leading steel producer due to Chinese subsidies of its industries. The subsidies make U.S. domestic production more costly, which has prompted a consortium of U.S. steel manufacturers to ask President Obama to increase tariffs on Chinese steel products.

Leo Gerard, president of United Steelworkers International, recently wrote a letter to the MTA to make the case for U.S. steel and the industry’s 850,000 workers. “American steelmakers and steelworkers have the drive, the know-how and more than enough capacity to supply the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge project with the best steel in the world made at the safest and most environmentally responsible plants in the world,” wrote Gerard. “We urge you to reconsider and ensure that the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and any other infrastructure projects you undertake in the future, be made of the best products in the world, made by the best workers in the world, right here in the United States.”

Eddie Walsh (NYS Iron Workers District Council) said, “I would want to see the steel made here in the United States, not overseas. Not in China.”

When questioned about the Buy America Act, which mandates the purchase of United States- manufactured durable goods to be used in projects that receive any federal funding, the MTA replied that the project is being financed through bond sales-based bridge and tunnel tolls it collects.  Just this past March, the MTA increased tolls and transit fares. The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge toll is $15.00 (cash), or $10.66 (NYS E-ZPass).

In response, Gerard cited an Alliance for American Manufacturing poll in which 81% of respondents were preferred that large infrastructure projects should be built in America, by American workers, using American steel and other products, even when the best arguments for a simple lowest-bidder contractor were offered as rebuttal.

“Given all this, it was particularly troubling that your spokesperson drew the distinction that projects built with toll dollars like the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge are exempt from Buying American because that only applies to projects built with tax dollars,” Gerard wrote. “It does a disservice to your constituents to have their transportation authority looking for loopholes and technicalities to avoid doing what the people want.”

The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge rehab project is just one of Tutor Perini’s local projects. The firm is replacing the City Island Road Bridge over Eastchester Bay, building a mixed-use development at Hudson Yards and is conducting signal system modernization for the MTA.

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