China Steels California

Before the coronavirus was detected in the U.S., there were other reasons to question the wisdom of doing business with a one-party Communist dictatorship such as China. With considerable support from U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, China gained entry to the World Trade Organization. That removed the annual review of the regime’s record on human rights and weapons proliferation and gave China the inside track on a major infrastructure project in California.

After the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, both spans of the Bay Bridge could have been retrofitted for $250 million. State and local officials pushed for a new eastern span, and as NPR explained, “the state saved a lot of money sending some of the construction work overseas.” 

That was China, where the massive cable and key sections of the iconic tower were all made. There was a legal requirement to use domestic steel but California got around that by “not using federal funds for the job.” State politicians rarely if ever turn down federal money, so the push to go with China must have been strong. 

When union and industry groups questioned the quality of Chinese steel, CalTrans manager Tony Anziano said the state sent 200 people to China to monitor the fabrication work and perform quality assurance testing, “So we have a very high level of assurance about what we are getting.” 

As it emerged in hearings held by State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, the Grade BD Chinese steel was prone to embrittlement, welds by Chinese workers were faulty, and every one of the bridge’s 750 panels had to be repaired. As the hearings revealed, Tony Anziano reassigned bridge engineer Douglas Coe after he raised concerns about defective welds. A CalTrans geologist called for a criminal investigation but none took place, and as DeSaulnier conceded, no one was held accountable. 

The new span came in $5 billion over budget and a full 10 years late, so the use of Chinese steel and labor did not save any money. The safety issues linger on, and the big test will come with the next earthquake. By 2043, the U.S. Geological Survey cites a 72 percent probability of one or more magnitude 6.7 earthquakes in the San Francisco Bay Area region.

K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at American Greatness.
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