Aviation Infrastructure Spending In NYC: Will We Get Our Monies Worth?

Nearly 50 workers watching tunnel digger do it’s job.

It’s a roadway, not an airport, but does the argument about how the project should be initiated and executed be a preview of what could be in store for us when infrastructure fixes of JFK and LaGuardia’s roadways and access bridges need to happen?

State Sen. Brian Kavanagh and Assemblywoman Joanne Simon hosted a rally in Brooklyn Heights in support of state legislation that would allow the city to combine engineering and construction work on a major roadway rehabilitation into a single contract.

New project on Brooklyn Queens Expressway that unions are fighting to do separate bids rather than plan and build.

The city would like Albany to grant it that authority for all projects, but for now it would settle for one: fixing the 80-year-old long “triple cantilever” system that buttresses a 1.5-mile section of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

Politicians joined business and civic leaders and de Blasio administration officials in railing against the costly inefficiencies of the present laws, which requires separate bidding and companies to handle the tasks. That leads to incompatibility, miscommunication and delays, causing companies to bid more than they otherwise would.

“In a day and age when we have to watch every dollar, make every dollar count, this is fiscally irresponsible,” exclaimed city Comptroller Scott Stringer, echoing other pols’ complaints that lack of design-build authority could cost the city an additional $100 million on the BQE project, adding years to its length and diverting even more traffic onto city streets.

“If design-build was good enough for Kosciuszko Bridge and the Tappan Zee Bridge, why isn’t it good enough for the BQE?” the newly installed speaker demanded.

But the governor’s office maintained that Cuomo is the proposal’s greatest champion.

State Sen. Diane Savino, a Democrat with a labor background, blamed the impasse on an upstate-downstate divide, together with Cuomo’s desire for blanket design-build authority statewide. Various interests have been unable to agree on the role of project-labor agreements, or PLAs, which allow for projects to use union labor yet be governed by work rules that differ from those of unions’ collective bargaining agreements.

The frosty morning gathering did not include any labor leaders, but the Building Trades has repeatedly endorsed expansion of design-build.

The repetitive work described above is wasteful; but perhaps not as ridiculously corrupt as the work done to connect Penn Station to Grand Central. This road-block to efficient project management is a direct result of the MTA’s work rules and employee “padding.”

In a NY Times story in 2012, it was reported that an accountant discovered the discrepancy in budget versus actual number of workers while reviewing the budget for new train platforms under Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan.

The budget showed that 900 workers were being paid to dig caverns for the platforms as part of a 3.5-mile tunnel connecting the historic station to the Long Island Rail Road. According to the NY Times article, “Nobody knew what those people were doing, if they were doing anything,” said Michael Horodniceanu, who was then the head of construction at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs transit in New York. The workers were laid off, Mr. Horodniceanu said, but no one figured out how long they had been employed. “All we knew is they were each being paid about $1,000 every day.” *

The discovery, which occurred in 2010 and was not disclosed to the public, illustrates one of the main issues that has helped lead to the increasing delays now tormenting millions of subway riders every day: The leaders entrusted to expand New York’s regional transit network have paid the highest construction costs in the world, spending billions of dollars that could have been used to fix existing subway tunnels, tracks, trains and signals.

The estimated cost of the Long Island Rail Road project, known as “East Side Access,” has ballooned to $12 billion, or nearly $3.5 billion for each new mile of track — seven times the average elsewhere in the world. The recently completed Second Avenue subway on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and the 2015 extension of the No. 7 line to Hudson Yards also cost far above average, at $2.5 billion and $1.5 billion per mile, respectively.

It is these anomalies that worry New Yorkers who want every cent of infrastructure allocation to be spent wisely. If the federal government, along with state and federal agencies are reserving money to improve our roads, rail and airports, there is no reason why we have to get only a small percent of the benefits that other cities are getting for the same amount of money.

It just may be a better idea to spend the money elsewhere where it will provide more benefits at less cost.  Joseph Alba

* Construction Worker Salaries in New York, NY

Salary estimated from 366 employees, users, and past and present job advertisements on Indeed in the past 24 months. Last updated: February 19, 2018

The survey indicated that NYC construction workers earned $90, 208 per year which was 75% more than the average American construction worker who earned about $52,000 per year. https://goo.gl/6CZP19

Mr. Alba was previously Editor of the Airport Press for 12 years covering both local as well as global aviation news. Prior to this, Mr. Alba had Executive positions in Systems Engineering and Marketing with IBM World Trade, and had foreign assignments in the Far East and Latin America earning three Outstanding Achievement Awards. Mr. Alba also directed a new function dealing with Alternate Fuels for Public Service Electric & Gas company in New Jersey and founded a Natural Gas Vehicle Consortium consisting of car company executives and fleet owners, and NGV suppliers in New Jersey. Mr. Alba was a founding partner of ATA, an IT Consulting company which is still active in Central and South America. After leaving the armed forces, Mr. Alba’s initial employee was the U.S. Defense Department as an analyst.

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