Decked out: Controversy over Verrazano Bridge construction

June 24, 2013 Denise Romano
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Hit the deck!

State Senator Diane Savino and Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis are asking the MTA to reconsider its decision to use Chinese steel in the upcoming Verrazano Bridge deck replacement.

The MTA made a deal with Tudor Perini Corp., an American contractor, to replace the concrete upper roadway of the bridge with a lighter steel deck, in a five-year, $235.7 million contract. In turn, the contractor hired China Railway Shanhaiguan Bridge Group to fabricate the steel from steel plate acquired from Angang Steel Group, the second-largest steelmaker in China.

Savino and Malliotakis contend that, with the Verrazano Bridge having the most expensive toll in the country, there shouldn’t be any cost-cutting measures that may put the safety of drivers at risk.

The elected officials wrote a letter to Thomas Prendergast, chairperson of the MTA, asking him to reconsider the decision.

“At a time when millions of industrial workers are unemployed or underemployed, we cannot understand why the MTA would consider importing steel from over 7,000 miles away from a Chinese state-owned entity that has never before manufactured this particular product,” the letter reads. “With our economy still struggling from the recent recession and unemployment and underemployment still troublingly high, it is shocking that the MTA would advance a plan to unnecessarily spend taxpayers’ dollars on foreign labor and material.”

According to the MTA, the agency has been looking for an American steel manufacturer with the “capability, experience and desire” to construct the steel bridge deck. A spokesperson explained that in order to have the reversible seventh HOV lane, an orthotropic steel deck must be used instead of the standard concrete and steel.

“Despite reaching out to American steel companies and the General Contractors Association, the MTA could not find an American fabricator. Delaying the project to accommodate an American fabricator would slow it by up to two years and increase the cost by up to $100 million,” said Judie Glave, an MTA spokesperson. “However, the MTA wants to continue working with the domestic steel industry to develop American-made solutions for bridge projects of this scope and complexity.”

But, Savino and Malliotakis still point out the environmental impact of the decision.

“Much less pollution will result from shipping steel from American plants, some of which are located within 100 miles of the bridge, than would be from hauling it from halfway around the world,” their letter says. “Chinese companies emit more than five times as much CO2 per ton of steel produced, almost three times as much nitrogen oxides, and almost twenty times as much particulate matter than the United States steel industry.”

The letter also questions the quality of the steel.

“Clearly, using substandard products on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge will ultimately jeopardize safety and result in costly delays, overruns and ultimately repairs,” the letter contends. “It would be unfair to shortchange our constituents, who pay the highest toll in the nation to use this bridge, by neglecting superior American-made steel.”

The project is scheduled to be completed by 2016.

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