Rejection of China-fabricated steel could delay bridge project

All steel fabricated in China for the Johnson Street Bridge may have to be rejected, potentially delaying completion by months, Victoria councillors were told Thursday.

Jonathan Huggett, interim manager of the bridge project, told councillors his preference would be to fix what has been produced if it can be certified as acceptable. “Can we fix it or has it got to be thrown away? Right now there is a very real risk that we are going to simply reject it all and tell them to redo it all.”

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PCL Constructors, the company building the bridge, stopped all fabrication of bridge steel by Jiangsu Zhongtai Steel Structure about July 22 after it became clear problems were not isolated incidents, Huggett said. Production is still shut down and likely won’t restart until mid-October at the earliest.

“This will likely delay the project. If we restart and I’m able to reuse the material, we’ve been shut down through July, August and September. If we can’t use it and I’ve got to go and source new steel, then we’ve got to add that [time] to it as well,” Huggett said.

Huggett has brought in two specialists as advisers: David Mcquaid, a vice-president of the American Welding Society, and Robert Connor, director of U.S.-based Steel Bridge Research Inspection, Training and Engineering Centre.

Huggett said he wrote to PCL Aug. 1 identifying 17 issues with steel work he was not prepared to accept. They included multiple fabrication and quality violations, use of fabrication details that don’t match accepted shop drawings, corrective actions taken without approval or inspection, use of uncertified welders, non-compliance with welding procedures, and discrepancies with test results from Jiangsu.

PCL is sending officials to China next week to determine the next step.

As of July, PCL has invoiced the city $14.7 million for work on the project, which includes $1.74 million in prepayment for steel fabrication, a staff report says.

“PCL are solely and totally responsible for the quality of that steel. That’s not the city’s problem,” Huggett told councillors.

Jiangsu began steel fabrication of main bridge trusses and a large ring rotating mechanism in March. In early July, the city received messages from Atema, PCL’s quality-control subcontractor, saying its testing results did not match the Chinese company’s results, Huggett said. The only bright point is that the quality-assurance program caught the deficiencies, he said.

Mayor Dean Fortin agreed: “We don’t have to accept the steel until it meets our standards.”

Though Fortin has maintained that the city has a fixed-price contract to build the bridge, PCL said in March that it needed an additional $7.9 million and 5 1Ú2 months to complete the project.

A staff report to council says consultant MMM Group and sub-consultant Hardesty Hanover are incurring cost overruns of about $840,000 and have identified about $1.55 million in further costs for project completion that they consider outside their contracted commitments.

The total budget for the bridge is $92.8 million.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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