The final segments for San Francisco Bay’s new suspension bridge are being loaded onto a ship in Shanghai today, moving California’s largest current public works project a step closer to completion.
The four steel modules, weighing a combined 5,300 tons, will then make a 22-day journey across the Pacific Ocean, before being joined with 24 other sections already in place. Together, they will help form the world’s longest single-tower, self-anchored suspension bridge, stretching 2,047 feet (624 meters).
The structure is part of the Bay’s new $6.4 billion East Span, due to open in 2013, which also includes a 1.2-mile viaduct. Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries Co.’s work making the 525-foot tower at the heart of the suspension bridge and the 28 steel deck sections for it, highlights how Chinese engineers are expanding overseas and winning contracts for more complicated projects.
“It’s a one-of-a-kind-project,” William Ibbs, professor of construction management at the University of California, Berkeley, said in a telephone interview. “Seeing something of this magnitude go up is astounding.”
The full East Span will stretch 2.2 miles from Yerba Buena Island in the middle of San Francisco Bay to the Oakland shore. The new Span, featuring two parallel roadways with five lanes each, will replace the current Bay Bridge’s existing eastern section, which was damaged by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
Five Months Early
Shanghai Zhenhua, a unit of Hong Kong-listed China Communications Construction Co., completed its work five months ahead of schedule, according to Chairman Zhou Jichang. The first of the sections arrived in California in January 2010. Loading the modules onto the ship will be completed by July 16, according to Tan Guangren, head of enterprise cultural division at the company.
The Shanghai-based company employed as many as 2,500 workers at peak times on the project, including 1,000 welders, who gained U.S. qualifications specifically for the work, he said. In total, it used 43,000 tons of steel on the project. Another Chinese company, Shanghai Pujiang Cable Co. made the 1-mile main cable for the bridge, Zhou said.
“Chinese engineering companies’ expertise has improved rapidly, thanks to their heavy investments in research and development,” said Hou Yankun, an analyst at Nomura International Hong Kong Ltd. “They realize they can’t be competitive in the long term just by making low-skill products.”
The main contractor on the suspension bridge is a venture between Coraopolis, Pennsylvania-based American Bridge Co. and Irving, Texas-based Fluor Corp.
Link to Oakland
The viaduct that will link the suspension bridge to Oakland consists of 452 deck sections fabricated in Stockton, California. The structure, called the skyway, sits on 28 columns that are supported by piles driven 300 feet into bay mud, according to the project’s website.
Shanghai Zhenhua only expects a small profit from its part of the project, which it won in 2006 with a $250 million bid, Zhou said, without elaboration. Instead, the group hopes the bridge will help it win more contracts as it expands into new products, including equipment for offshore drilling and wind-power generation.
“Making money wasn’t the first priority for us,” Zhou said. “We want to build a name for ourselves in a new area.”