July 19, 2016

walk-sign.pngNYSDOT Tells Long Island to “Take a Walk”

by Marc Herbst

New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner Matthew Driscoll and his staff delivered a clear message at the July 12th partnering meeting with the downstate heavy construction industry leaders at GCA headquarters in NYC. The message for the Long Island region, in particular, was “Take a walk.” Pedestrian Safety projects appear to be the only highlight for this construction season.

The Commissioner began his remarks by touting the record funding levels for the Department of Transportation’s new five-year spending plan adopted by the state legislature and governor. He then revealed that the spending plan was not limited to the capital program, because his department “has no operating budget.” We learned, for the first time, that the long-term program will now be responsible for funding the department’s internal operations.

While acknowledging the lack of an approved “MOU” project list from the executive and legislative houses, Driscoll then proudly announced that $708 million for projects in the downstate (lower Hudson Valley, New York City and Long Island) has already been booked for the season. Shocked, the industry leaders in attendance immediately pointed out that the traditional annual statewide capital program is between $1.6 billion and $1.8 billion (far higher than his $708 million). Additionally, the historic allocation of the entire program for the downstate region is 60%. Given the Commissioner’s announcement, that allocation has dropped to about 44%. LICA felt it was important to share these concerns with our legislators and you can see a copy of Herbst's letter here.

Following the Commissioner’s opening remarks, representatives from the three downstate regional offices made presentations regarding the anticipated projects in the specific regions for the next three seasons. In the past, these lists have been distributed to the participants, but apparently due to the lack of an approved “MOU,” the representatives provided only an oral summary of anticipated projects. Long Island Regional Director Joe Brown was not present, but Regional Construction Engineer Craig Ruyle made the presentation on his behalf. LICA board member Billy Haugland Jr., LICA Executive Director Marc Herbst, John Duffy of Local 138 and representatives from the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters and Laborers Local 1298 were all in attendance to hear the reports.

Ruyle reported that the Long Island Region is scheduled to let approximately 17 projects annually for the next three years, with the annual spending level between $100-200 million each year. That number is a far cry less than the approximate $290 million we were advised to expect for this construction season at the passage of the state budget in April. The projects expected to be let for the remainder of this season include three “pedestrian safety projects,” a guiderail repair project ($5-10 million), a bridge rehabilitation project ($20 million), and a mix of maintenance projects. In 2017-18, the marquee project appears to be a repaving project for the entire length of the Wantagh Parkway ($10-20 million). (The Commissioner says that project is being done because he personally rode on it and knows how bad it is.) They also plan to let a couple priority resurfacing jobs at $10-20 million each, a drainage job on Route 454 in the $5-10 million range, and a concrete repair project for Route 231. The remainder of projects are the typical maintenance and graffiti removal contracts. For 2018-19, Ruyle highlighted a few anticipated projects, including Route 112 reconstruction between I-495 and Granny Road ($25 million), and the resurfacing of Route 135 and Walt Whitman Road.

In contrast to the $100-200 million slotted for Long Island, the spending plan for the New York City region for the next three seasons will be $300 million, $600 million, and $400-500 million. That plan includes projects which amount to the entire planned letting program for Long Island. While not begrudging the need for these NYC projects or the designation, the regional allocation formula which previously designated 23% of the entire state funding to both New York City and Long Island appears to have been abandoned, despite the fact that Long Island has significantly greater highway mileage and claims 25% of the state’s registered motor vehicles.

For reference, below is the available history of DOT program expenditures, construction on-system and construction off-system, for Region 10 (Long Island):

2000 $226.5
2001 $174.4
2002 $394.7
2003 $166.0
2004 $220.3
2005 $300.6
2006 $184.4
2007 $275.1
2008 $211.8
2009 $343.5
2010 $288.2
2011 $125.6
2012 $377.8
2013 $270.6


The Long Island Third Track project was also discussed. Chief Deputy Commissioner Phil Eng insinuated that the anticipated $1 billion mega project will achieve its record of decision next year and that the project will probably be let as a single bid contract. That act will disregard LICA’s call for separate bids of the seven anticipated grade crossing elimination projects. “Clearly the state is dismissing our request to design the project in a way that would allow local contractors the opportunity to acquire bonding levels and compete for the work, rather than outsourcing all project revenues to a large international firm, which will be the case, if the full project is let as a single bid”. 

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