Chinese steel fails strength test
Roading bosses are defending their quality control standards after 1600 tonnes of Chinese steel destined for a major Waikato project was found to be below standard.
The substandard steel piles were to be used on four bridges along the Huntly section of the Waikato Expressway.
The 15.2 kilometre-long section is being built by a Fulton Hogan HEB joint venture who purchased the steel from New Zealand company Steel & Tube Holdings.
Tony Dickens, project director of the joint venture, said quality issues were identified shortly after the steel arrived in February and strength tests were conducted.
The batch of below-strength steel forced a design rethink for two bridges along the section.
"The solution we have implemented includes a redesign of the steel tube piles, which are now being used as reinforced concrete piles for two of the bridges due to time constraints," Dickens said in a statement.
The roading contractor has since asked Steel & Tube to find replacement steel piles for two other bridges.
Dickens said the NZ Transport Agency was alerted to concerns about the steel's quality "as soon as it was discovered".
The roading contractor will cover the cost of buying the replacement steel.
Kaye Clark, NZ Transport Agency's Hamilton highways manager, said New Zealand takes only a small fraction of Chinese steel, with the product sourced from different manufacturing plants.
It was "very unlikely" that one batch of steel would supply more than one project in New Zealand.
"In the event that did happen, the stringent quality assurance process which the transport agency requires its contractors to follow, would identify the problem, as it has in this case," Clark said.
Steel & Tube said the batch of steel was subject to independent testing, including a pre-export inspection by SGS - a global inspection and verification company.
Asked if test results could have been altered, Clark said that was something for the supplier and the relevant regulatory authorities to determine.
"The most important thing is that there will be no financial impact on the taxpayer," Clark said.
On any large roading project, the main contractor will source materials from a number of suppliers.
The transport agency requires structures be fit for purpose and materials meet quality standards.
"Our testing regimes ensure these standards are met. In this case they kicked in and worked," Clark said.
"This is ultimately a commercial issue between the contractor and their supplier. The taxpayer will not pay a penny more, the bridges are 100 per cent safe and the project has not been delayed."
Steel & Tube chief executive Dave Taylor said the company acknowledged the pile casings did not meet the required specifications.
The company was now in talks with multiple agencies in China and New Zealand.
Huntly section of Waikato Expressway
* A $458 million roading project that will connect with the Ohinewai section in the north, and to the Ngaruawahia section at Taupiri.
* The 15.2 kilometre-long section is being built by the Fulton Hogan HEB joint venture.
* Has a completion date of March, 2020, but tipped to open by December, 2019.
* Permanent piles are in for the Mangawara Stream Bridge. The Whangamaire Stream Bridge is under construction, with piling starting in May.