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Don’t Outsource an American Icon

Verrazano Bridge (NY) - The Middle Class Action Project
Verrazano Bridge (NY) - The Middle Class Action ProjectMCAP

Don’t Outsource an American Icon. Rebuild the Verrazano Bridge with American Steel

By Ilya Galak and Michael Califra

The Middle Class Action Project

When it opened in 1964, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was the longest suspension bridge on Earth; an iconic structure in a city with more than its fair share of icons. 50 years later the MTA, which operates the bridge, is planning a massive $235 million-dollar upgrade, replacing its concrete upper deck with steel. Unfortunately, the MTA decided to use Chinese and not American steel.

Outsourcing this project would be a slap in the face at any time, not only to American workers and US manufacturers, but also to those who pay the exorbitant $15 dollars toll for the privilege of driving on the bridge.

But it is even more egregious at a time when this country is suffering though a period of high unemployment with economic output well under capacity due to the lingering effects of the 2008 financial crisis. The MTA’s Thomas Prendergast says that it was forced to outsource to China because there was no American steel company able to supply a product capable of “satisfying the requirements for a project of this scope and complexity.”

That turns out not to be true. In fact there are two steel companies, both located in Pennsylvania, 100 miles from the Verrazano Bridge, that can produce steel to the MTA’s specifications. What the American manufacturers cannot do is compete with a Chinese state-owned company, which receives massive subsidies from the government at the same time it pays its workers – for a full day’s work – less than half of what American Steel workers earn per hour.

That might seem like the tough economic reality, but it is far from the whole story. In California, the state also chose a Chinese manufacturer – Zhenhua Pot Machinery Co. of Shanghai – for the steel used in the San Francesco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

The results were cost overruns and expensive, months-long construction delays due to deceit of the manufacturer, which knowingly claimed a delivery schedule it could not meet. The American inspection firm MacTec Engineering and Consulting, which the California Transportation Dept. assigned to the factory, reported early on that as many as 65 percent of the more than 30 welded panel sections his office examined – either visually or using ultrasonic testing – failed to meet specifications. Eventually welds on more than 100 panels had to be inspected and repaired.

The experience has raised the questions about whether California taxpayers are getting substandard components built into their bride that could wear out prematurely and require costly repairs in the near future. The shortsighted addiction to cheap foreign labor, no matter the cost to the safety American public or the economic well being of its people has to stop.

The MTA should not be taking money from the American working people at the toll both and sending those dollars abroad to support the state-owned industries of dictatorial regimes like China, especially after a city audit found it had a nearly two billon-dollar surplus. Some of the most modern, computerized steel-manufacturing facilities in the world right here at home. They are capable of producing safe, high quality steel and have done for countless large projects, including building the Verrazano Bridge itself.

It is time to tell our elected representatives to use all means possible to pressure the MTA to use American-made steel. The people who elected them deserve no less.