Now Made in China: The Oakland Bay Bridge

Another great American Icon is falling victim to the collapse of the country’s manufacturing industry. Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries has completed construction of the last of four steel modules for the new Oakland Bay Bridge. The pieces of this giant erector set, which weigh 5,300 tons together, will shortly begin the arduous 22 day journey across the Pacific, baring weather delays.

These are the last of 43,000 tons of Chinese heavy engineering handiwork that will be used to rebuild the aging structure, which was damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Caltrans authorities have been holding their breath ever since, with potholes occasionally opening up to the bay 100 feet below, cables snapping to behead unfortunate rush hour commuters, and trucks breaking through a treacherous “S” curve to crash land below.

Zhenhua won the contract with a rock bottom $250 million bid, which is not much more than the cost of the steel itself. The company had to agree to train 1,000 welders to US union standards to get the job. An all American bid would have come in at several times this figure. When the 525 foot tall tower is completed, it will become the world’s largest single span suspension bridge.

The only catch is that if repairs are required on site, the operating manual is written in Mandarin. Will the last person to leave US based manufacturing please turn out the lights? At least many of the tourists photographing the new bridge will be visiting from the Middle Kingdom and paying for it with their vacation dollars.

Small consolation if you are an American worker waiting for his next food stamp hand out.