New York lawmakers criticized for failing to pass design-build legislation

In last month’s special session in the state legislature in Albany, a bill that would authorize a design-build program specific to NYC was not included, despite broad support from city officials and many in the real estate industry.

“The bottom line is, we are disappointed that it was not included in this last special session in Albany,” said New York Building congress president Carlo Scissura, who has long championed the program. “It’s a no-brainer. We’re one of the last places in the U.S. and maybe the world that doesn’t do this.”

Scissura pointed to the Tappan Zee and Kosciuszko bridge s as two infrastructure projects that have benefitted from using Design Build in major renovations to the structures.

Two high-profile city projects — the $1 billion Javits Convention Center renovation and addition, and the $3 billion Penn Station overhaul — have also been authorized to use design-build.

“Those projects are done under budget and in a great time frame,” said Scissura. “We’re going to continue to talk to the legislature and the Governor’s office and let them know that this is an important piece of legislation that people need.”

Design-build is a project delivery method that would allow the Department of Transportation (DOT) to hire a contractor who would be responsible for both design and construction of the project, in contrast to the traditional method of agencies signing separate contracts with an architect and a contractor. Supporters say the method shortens the timeline of projects and saves money.

However, while state projects use the project delivery method, it is off-limits to most public entities including city agencies like DOT.

In 2011, Governor Cuomo expanded design-build authority as a pilot program to a few state agencies — the Thruway Authority, DOT, Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Department of Environmental Conservation, and Bridge Authority.

That pilot program expired in 2014 but was renewed the next year, but the state legislature failed to pass a bill in 2015 that would have expanded design-build authority to all public entities, including those in New York City.

It’s unclear why lawmakers haven’t yet passed the design-build bill, with such broad support from city officials and the real estate industry.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, the Real Estate Board of New York, Governor Cuomo, The Partnership for New York City, and the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York have have all expressed support in adopting design-build for city projects.

One notable exception is the New York State Society of Professional Engineers (NYSSPE), an organization that has been vocal about its concerns over the Design-Build program. The group wrote a memorandum in June in opposition to the proposed Design-Build bill, laying out their concerns on how the program would affect engineers.

The organization said the current bill fails to include sufficient safeguards, permits the selection of design services based on a low bid selection process “without sufficient regard to quality based selection procedures (QBS),” and fails to insure that a design firm will have access and input on the project after a contractor is awarded a project.

However, the organization noted on its website that “in general, NYSSPE is in favor of Design Build, as long as it is done in a way that there are proper safeguards in place to protect the public.”

With the failure of the state legislature to pass the design-build authorization in the most recent special session, supporters will have to wait while to see design-build become a reality for some NYC projects.

“There’s support in the Assembly, there’s support in the Senate, the government is doing a great job with design build on state projects, there’s a lot of support for us, it’s just one of those things that’s just not happening,” said Scissura.

He referenced the triple cantilever replacement on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway (BQE) as one of the “most critical” capital projects in the state, and one that without design-build will be  “way behind” schedule.

“Residents and people in Brooklyn will be really hurt by a lack of design build authorization,” said Scissura.

“I don’t really see anything happening with this until the new year. We will continue to talk about it, to raise the issue, to explain why it’s a great tool, why the industry supports it, and why it works well. It’s a good thing and you save a lot of money. It’s just a no-brainer.”

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