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Portland, Ore. - Area Steel Fabricators Join Forces for San Francisco Bridge Bid

March 12, 2004 Reposted from The Oregonian
   By Allan Brettman

VANCOUVER, Wash. - Four Portland-area steel fabricators that normally compete for building projects instead joined forces Thursday in an effort to win a five-year, $30 million contract for work on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

Bay Bridge Fabricators, as the companies are known collectively, intends to submit a subcontractor bid in May. The California Department of Transportation has said it will award the contract in July.

If the bid is successful, the companies said they will add 300 new jobs to handle the work. The Columbia River Economic Development Council, meanwhile, projects that an additional 270 jobs would be created during the two-year construction of a manufacturing plant.

Tom Hickman, marketing manager for Oregon Iron Works, which has plants in Clackamas and Vancouver, said the four companies are confident they will get the job. Bay Bridge Fabricators is the only U.S. organization capable of undertaking the job, he said, and political pressures make it difficult for California officials to select overseas competitors.

Thompson Metal Fab of Vancouver, Universal Structural of Vancouver and Fought & Co. of Tigard are also involved in the project.

Hickman announced the consortium's plans at a news conference at the Port of Vancouver, where the fabricators are in talks to lease 25 acres next to the Columbia River, with an option to lease 10 more acres.

Bay Bridge Fabricators plans to spend $30 million for capital improvement -- $12 million in equipment and $18 million for a 406,750-square-foot manufacturing space and site upgrades. Plans also call for construction of a $3 million barge loading dock.

Hickman said the 300 employees would come from the Iron Workers Union Local 516 and the Sheet Metal Workers Local 16, with a total payroll of $13.5 million.

Hickman and others said an announcement was made Thursday to make clear where Bay Bridge Fabricators would establish its plant and also to meet an early requirement of the complicated bidding process. He said the group also considered a site on Portland's Swan Island.

The consortium is thought to be the only domestic steel manufacturer to compete for this contract against competitors from Japan, Korea, China and Latin America, according to the offices of Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Brian Baird, D-Wash.

Murray and Baird, concerned that the four fabricators might lose out to a non-American competitor, have been working with California Department of Transportation officials to assist Bay Bridge Fabricators for about a year.

"I've worked very hard to encourage Caltrans to change their bid requirements and give our workers and companies every opportunity to compete for Bay Bridge work," Murray said in a statement.

Murray is the senior Democrat on the Senate Transportation Appropriations subcommittee. Baird is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Conn Abnee, executive director of the National Steel Bridge Alliance in Chicago, sent Baird a letter last October saying the only bridge deck fabricators in the United States are in Oregon and Washington.

The letter, which also lists states with other potential steel contributors to the Bay Bridge project, notes that "bid specifications require all general contractor bidders to include a domestic steel alternative."

The 2.2-mile-long, $ 2.9-billion replacement of the east span on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge includes a global first -- a 525-ft-high, single-pylon, self-anchored suspension bridge. Construction started in 2001 and is expected to be completed in 2009, said Lauren Wonder, spokeswoman for the California Department of Transportation.

The "buy America" requirement for federal funding projects such as the Bay Bridge generally allows domestic bids to be up to 25 percent more expensive than foreign competitors, said Dan McElhinney, Caltrans' toll bridge program manager.

The job will require the construction of 25 steel boxes that would support the deck of the bridge, Hickman said.

Each of the 28 boxes -- 95-feet-wide by 18-feet deep -- would weigh between 1,200 and 1,500 tons.

Once the project is completed, five years after its start, the four fabricators likely will look for other projects on which to cooperate, Hickman said. A replacement span for the Interstate 5 Bridge -- a long-held goal for Oregon and Washington transportation planners -- might be a start, he joked.


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