Steel Rods: The Latest Metal Sourcing Debacle for SF-Oakland Bay Bridge

My editor and colleague Lisa Reisman once wrote, “Somebody once told me the best items to source from China ought to fit in shoe boxes. Whoever thought [granting the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge contract to Chinese suppliers] would save California money had a screw loose.”

Turns out, the screws that are loose – or, in this week’s case, cracked – come not from China, but from our backyard.

The quote from Lisa I just cited comes from her July 19, 2011, article, “Made In America: Buying Criteria for Infrastructure Projects,” and in it, she outlines the key considerations in sourcing mega infrastructure projects:

  1. Materials (the obvious place most organizations will examine)
  2. Labor costs — let’s not just look at a wage comparison chart, but rather factoring in the cost of quality (QA trips to China ought to be part of the equation)
  3. Contract administration costs
  4. Project management costs (particularly in light of potential delays)
  5. Inspection costs — both US QA personnel and also third-party inspectors
  6. Freight/logistics costs
  7. Duties/tariffs
  8. Inventory carry and finance
  9. Carbon footprint as measured in output of emissions associated with the movement of the materials (raw materials and otherwise), transportation costs (fuel, pollution costs)
  10. Sustainability use of recycled materials for the production of steel (China mostly uses blast furnaces as opposed to electric arc furnaces)

Lisa sums up by writing, “Undoubtedly, other major domestic infrastructure projects will come to fruition soon. Hopefully, state procurement offices will do a better job sourcing those projects than Caltrans did.”

Evidently, Caltrans ­– the California Department of Transportation ­– and the state’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission, both responsible for the Bay Bridge project, will now have to dig into line items #1 and #5 above.


The San Francisco Chronicle reported that “at least 30 of the giant bolts that hold together the new, $6.4 billion eastern span of the Bay Bridge have snapped,” and “as a result, Caltrans is considering replacing all 288 of the bolts on the new bridge before it opens” after Labor Day this year.

The hitch is that the 17-foot-long steel bolts (rods) were made in the US.

(MetalMiner has attempted to contact Caltrans for a list of suppliers, but so far, no response. According to the Sacramento Bee, the shear keys, “units that allow controlled lateral movement of the bridge in the event of a large quake,” are what the rods held together. Korean firm Hochang Machinery Industries made the shear keys, but according to the Bee, Caltrans “has not yet identified the U.S. supplier.” Hmm. Not so sure about that…)

Continued in Part Two.


  • The company that made the pieces that failed is Painesville, Ohio-based Dyson Corp. Shuck said the company has been “cooperative and helpful” with Caltrans’ investigation.

    Caltrans is focused on fixing the problem and said it will determine who is financially responsible for the bolts’ failure after repairs are finished and the costs are known.

  • Yes, we all know that now – the question is, what are the further steps a body such as Caltrans should take in a procurement deal to make sure their suppliers’ products are good to go, before installing them?

    As the adage goes (which Boeing, for one, knows all too well): “Do it right the first time.”

    Do you work for a company that sources metal parts, Mr./Ms. “Anonymous”? If so, give us your personal take on this type of issue. (And if this comment is yours, Scott, then you’re not helping :-))

  • knock it down and start over!

    They are touting saving a measly 6.3% by OUTSOURCING badly needed jobs, this starves the local economy and government, I want to know who made these decesions and if they got any kickbacks. If we had a REAL NEWS media we would all know.

    “When you have a project of that size here in California, it has a multiplier effect. It gives thousands of families those jobs, and then those paychecks and their subsequent spending ends up going back into our economy. And so now all that money has permanently disappeared from California.”

    – California Assemblyman Luis Alejo


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