Getting the facts straight on the Bay Bridge debate.

Posted by scapozzola on 04/03/2012

Yesterday, National Public Radio (NPR) affiliate KQED hosted a discussion of the problems of the Bay Bridge.  Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) Executive Director Scott Paul debated with Bart Ney, senior communications manager for the California Department of Transportation, on the outsourcing of the bridge's center span to a state-owned Chinese firm.

Last week, AAM had put up billboards in California that declared the Bay Bridge “100% foreign steel.”  During the KQED interview, Ney said that he believed the billboards were misleading.  A large amount of give-and-take ensued, followed by a variety of comments on the KQED website that offered conflicting opinions.

Following all the wrangling over the specifics of the bridge debate, and AAM's blunt billboard ads, the Alliance for American Manufacturing would like to thank both moderator Michael Krasny and Bart Ney for participating in such a lively, informative discussion.

AAM wants to be clear about something.  We stand by our ad.  And while we couldn’t capture every complexity of the debate in the limited space of a billboard, our goal was to highlight one key point: The most critical feature of the Bay Bridge, its central span, was proudly made in China.

As the New York Times has explained, “The assembly work in California, and the pouring of the concrete road surface, will be done by Americans. But construction of the bridge decks and the materials that went into them are a Made in China affair.” 

ABC World News has reported on this, too.

See the above photo.  That's then-Governor Schwarzenegger visiting China to praise the actual builders of the bridge, and the bridge sections awaiting shipment to the U.S.  A close look at those bridge sections reveals that they are the same massive segments now standing above the San Francisco Bay. 

BOTTOM LINE: The bridge was made in China because of loopholes in California law utilized by the last administration. Put simply, the last governor refused federal money for the center span of the bridge because he would have had to comply with Buy America laws. Instead, the center span was outsourced to China.

The fact that the center span of the bridge was made in China remains AAM's point.  Significantly, U.S. firms could have built that span.  A group of U.S. fabricators had formed a California-approved joint venture to create the capacity to fabricate the self-anchored suspension span for the bridge. Too bad California didn't hire them.  The Chinese firm that got the job actually had to build a new facility to take on this additional work – they did not have the initial capacity nor the capability to fabricate this project from the get go.  They simply low-balled their way into winning the bid and, in their eventual rush to get the job done, delivered faulty product. 

The Bay Bridge symbolizes the short-term thinking behind outsourcing. Trying to save money in the short-term leads to long-term economic loss for America in terms of squandered tax dollars, lost jobs, and the shoring up of a strategic competitor.  The American people have shown in national polling that they want their tax dollars spent on U.S.-made bridges and rail.  AAM's campaign aims to reinforce that view and explain why it makes sound financial sense to “Make it in America.”

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