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China builds bridges with America

Release:2011-06-26   Edit:Admin   From:Rising steel grating


The People's Republic aims to become the world's civil engineer.
AT A sprawling manufacturing complex in Shanghai, hundreds of Chinese labourers are completing work on the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
Next month, the last four of more than two-dozen giant steel modules complete with roadbed segments will be loaded onto a huge ship and transported 10,500 kilometres to California.
The assembly work there, and the pouring of the concrete road surface, will be done by Americans. But California officials say the state saved hundreds of millions of dollars by choosing to have the bridge decks made in China.


'They've produced a pretty impressive bridge for us,'' a program manager at the California Department of Transportation, Tony Anziano, said a few weeks ago while at the site. ''Four years ago, there were just steel plates here and lots of orange groves.''
On the reputation of projects like Beijing's Olympic-sized airport terminal and the mammoth hydro-electric Three Gorges Dam, Chinese companies have been hired to build copper mines in the Congo, high-speed rail lines in Brazil and huge apartment complexes in Saudi Arabia.
In New York City alone, Chinese companies have won contracts to help renovate the subway system, refurbish the Alexander Hamilton Bridge over the Harlem River and build a new train platform near Yankee Stadium.
American unions have disparaged the Bay Bridge contract by accusing the state of California of sending good jobs overseas and settling for what they deride as poor-quality Chinese steel.
But with the full financial force of the Chinese government behind its infrastructure companies, the monumental scale of the work and the prices bid, it's hard for private industry elsewhere to compete.
The new Bay Bridge, expected to open to traffic in 2013, will replace a structure that has never been quite the same since the 1989 Bay area earthquake. At $US7.2 billion ($A6.9 billion), it will be one of the most expensive structures ever built.
''I don't think the US fabrication industry could put a project like this together,'' the project director for the American Bridge/Fluor Enterprises joint venture, Brian Petersen, said.
''Most US companies don't have these types of warehouses, equipment or the cash flow,'' he said. ''The Chinese load the ships and it's their ships that deliver to our piers.''
Despite the American union complaints, former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger strongly backed the project and even visited the state-owned Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries Company plant last September, praising ''the workers that are building our Bay Bridge''.
Zhenhua put 3000 employees to work on the project: steel-cutters, welders, polishers and engineers. The company built the main bridge tower, which was shipped in mid-2009, and a total of 28 bridge decks - the massive triangular steel structures that will serve as the roadway platform.
Pan Zhongwang, a 55-year-old steel polisher, is a typical Zhenhua worker. He arrives at 7am and leaves at 11pm, often working seven days a week. He lives in a company dormitory and earns about $US12 a day.
''It used to be $US9 a day, now it's $US12,'' he said last week, while polishing one of the decks for the new bridge. ''Everything is getting more expensive. They should raise our pay.''