Pssst, Buddy: You Wanna Buy a Giant Crane? Massive 'Left-Coast Lifter' Could Be On the Market By 2010.

Courtesy American Bridge-Fluor Enterprises
The 'Left-Coast Lifter,' seen here in a 'proof load' in China, has lifted up to 2,000-ton objects. Do you have room for it in your backyard?
On what section of Craigslist would you hawk "MASSIVE CRANE! Lifts 1,700 tons -- Like New!"?

How about "Tools"? "Collectibles"? Well, certainly not "Free".

The gargantuan "Left-Coast Lifter" that will, literally, do the heavy lifting for the "Self-Anchored Suspension" span of the Bay Bridge sailed into San Francisco waters this week. The gushing fanfare accorded the crane on the pages of local papers affirmed what is, genuinely, a heart-warming notion: Even journalists and brilliant engineers with an alphabet's worth of letters following their names still retain a child's enthusiasm for amazing, oversized machinery (and, believe you me, we're going to have some great details about what this crane can do -- in a minute).

And yet, Mike Flowers, the project director overseeing the bridge's construction, says the Bay Area's newest landmark may not be here for very long. The work for which the Lifter was custom-built figures to be done by next year (knock on wood), meaning Flowers and his company will be facing a difficult question: Who wants to buy a second-hand crane large enough that -- unlike the Giants -- it could fill AT&T Park?

Flowers is the project director for American Bridge -- which joined with Fluor Enterprises to accept Caltrans' contract to construct the Eastern span of the new Bay Bridge. The Shanghai-built lifter sits atop a 400-foot-long, 100-foot-wide, 22-foot-high barge custom constructed in Oregon for nearly $20 million; the crane itself was built in Shanghai for roughly $30 million more.

Once its work is done, there's a good chance that the crane could be headed back to the Far East; Flowers notes that much larger cranes are used in the offshore drilling business in Asia than are typically employed in the West. Yet if the economy is in a place where no one wants -- or needs -- a barge capable of lifting the ridiculous loads the Lifter was built to handle, then American Bridge-Fluor is going to have a very expensive piece of machinery on its hands.

"Frankly, the barge would then have greater value," notes Flowers. It seems giant cranes may devalue even faster than laptop computers.

Yet there is another intriguing possibility. A massive crane like the Lifter sure could be useful in dismantling the existing Eastern span of the Bay Bridge. That job, however, hasn't been put to bid, and probably won't until the tail end of the construction process (which is scheduled -- again, knock on wood -- to finish up by 2013). If American Bridge-Fluor can't find a buyer for the Lifter between 2010 and 2013, it may be the best-equipped outfit to handle the deconstruction job and could remove massive chunks of the bridge at a time instead of forcing a slower and costlier "reverse engineering" of the old span. But will the Left Coast Lifter be on the slow boat to China by then? No one knows.

Anyhow, on to the aforementioned amazing technical details. The Lifter is safety-rated to haul weights of up to 1,700 metric tons -- but in "proof lifts" held in China before the crane was shipped over here (that's the picture at the top of this story), it managed to haul up to 2,000 tons. Flowers said that no pieces slated to be lifted for the Bay Bridge exceed 1,300 tons -- but, including the rigging it takes to secure a 1,300-chunk of concrete and/or steel, the total weight approaches 1,600 tons.

Finally, the ship that carried the Left-Coast Lifter to the Bay Area is "semi-submersible" -- "by ballasting down in the water, the crane/barge were floated aboard and secured," adds Flowers.

What does this mean? Take a look -- an aquatic low-rider:

Courtesy American Bridge-Fluor Enterprises

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