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Transport chiefs tout savings

By Dan Orlando

A program that shaved $1 billion off the cost of replacing the Tappan Zee Bridge is vital to rebuilding New York’s aging infrastructure, according to two leading transportation officials.

State Transportation commissioner Joan McDonald and New York City Transportation Commissioner, Polly Trottenberg told a gathering of New York Building Congress members yesterday (Tuesday) that the design-build process that allows government entities to award a single contract for the design and construction of major projects was “vital.”

“If we don’t pass it, it will be a huge setback for the state and for the projects,” McDonald said during the breakfast event at New York Hilton Midtown.

“Some of the projects we have in the pipeline right now for 2015, we need Design-Build so that we can put people to work in 2015 [if design-build is not renewed] we won’t be putting people to work until 2016-2017.”

Both women spoke about the importance of Design-Build while fielding questions from Building Congress President Richard T.

Anderson and New York Times Transportation Reporter Matt Flegenheimer. The program is set to expire in December unless Albany reverses a decision to exclude it from the state budget plan.

“Design-Build is extremely important to our capital program,” said McDonald. “Everybody when they think about Design-Build they think about the big projects, the Tappan Zee Bridge,” which reportedly cost the city as much as $1 billion less thanks to the guidelines of the program. “But at DOT, we’ve also awarded seven (smaller) Design- Build contracts.”

Trottenberg echoed her sentiments and made clear that though the current structure of design-build blocks the city from taking advantage of the program; her office is currently championing New York City’s inclusion should the legislation be renewed.

“We have certainly been making an effort to get the city included,” said Trottenberg before saying that the city’s DOT has a vested interest in design-build’s ability to “get more people to work and more contracts out the door.”

Trottenberg provided the current expansion of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway as an example of an endeavor that would benefit greatly from design-build. Expected to be completed by 2018, the project was described by Trottenberg as “the engineering and design challenge of a generation.”

The Tappan Zee Bridge will be demolished once a replacement is built.
The Tappan Zee Bridge will be demolished once a replacement is built.

She expects that New York City could save as much as $10s of millions in construction costs should design-build be renewed with the city included.

Both women also discussed the general red tape and various obstacles that can frustrate both the city’s transportation needs and the state as a whole’s.

“We make things in New York very complicated,” Trottenberg said. Perhaps more complicated than in other jurisdictions that I’ve dealt with.”

“New York is actually one of the places,” she continued, “That it takes the longest to actually obligate the money to get the projects done.

The City Transportation Commissioner said she believed that there is a way to “streamline” the approval process “without sacrificing quality” and hoped to see improvement in this area in the near future.

McDonald agreed. “In addition to some of the complications through our processing, everyone recognizes that when you have some of the oldest structure and you are subject to the impact of weather like other cities and states aren’t, it does make a difference.”

McDonald referred to refurbishing the city’s outdated bridges while minimizing the negative impact on traffic flow as “a challenge” and suggested that municipalities opting to build new structures were enjoying a smoother transition during construction.

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