The state’s most pressing infrastructure project, the Tappan Zee Bridge, is moving forward.
Last fall President Obama granted Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s request to speed up the construction of a new bridge over the Hudson River, and last month members of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council unanimously voted to support the plan.
“Today we are one step closer to building a new, safer bridge that will revitalize the Hudson Valley by creating thousands of jobs,” Cuomo said in August.
It’s a big project, and an important one for the Hudson region.
Work on replacing the span should begin this fall, creating 45,000 new construction jobs through 2017, when the bridge is expected to open. The project has been estimated to cost $5.2 billion.
Community leaders are bracing for an increase in tolls—which could go up to as much as $14 per vehicle—and the effect of construction on home values and quality of life in the region. But state leaders say the bridge is a necessary project that is long overdue.
Figuring out the finances of the rebuilding of the Tappan Zee Bridge will be a priority, said state Sen. Liz Krueger, who serves on the Senate Housing, Construction and Community Development Committee.
“We are heavily dependent on maximizing federal dollars that may become available for loans that may pay for the cost,” Krueger said. “We know that at the end of the day the toll will go up significantly for any new bridge.”
The first stage of building Moynihan Station in the footprint of the Farley Post Office is finally under way. But the construction of a harbor tunnel connecting Manhattan and New Jersey remains stalled owing to the intransigence of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who canceled the project two years ago.
Legislators would also like to revive discussions for a new Thruway Authority or Bridge Authority contract to fix about 400 small bridges throughout the state instead of renovating each bridge one by one. That includes the Ashford Avenue Bridge in Dobbs Ferry, which has dropped pieces of concrete debris on unsuspecting motorists driving on the state road beneath it.
Of course, both authorities could merge to streamline costs for engineering and maintenance, a proposal the Cuomo administration has floated during the governor’s first term.
“The idea of merging absolutely makes sense to me, and it would require legislative action,” said Krueger. “It also has to be done legally and correctly such that bond holders are secured if there’s a change in the existing authority. If an authority has outstanding bonds, there are legal issues to end or merge [it].”
And transit isn’t the only thing on legislators’ wish lists.
Workers are building nearly two dozen new skyscrapers in New York City, including four towers at the World Trade Center that will be completed between 2013 and 2015.
Meanwhile lawmakers say that the downstate region must build thousands of units of affordable housing over the next decade as the city’s population continues to swell. Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer promised about $400 million in state money for new affordable housing, but resigned from office before the money was ever allocated. His successors have not delivered on that commitment, and now state legislators hope that federal funding will match contributions at the state level.
State Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins would like to see the Senate help rebuild aging public schools in her district after a Journal News article found that one in three buildings in the Lower Hudson Valley had “unsatisfactory” ratings from state inspections.
“Senator Stewart-Cousins would like to address this problem and make sure that the children of Westchester and New York State are educated in safe facilities that are conducive to learning,” spokesman John Tomlin said. “The City of Yonkers School district has proposed implementing public/private partnerships to help rebuild their facilities, and the senator is interested in exploring this proposal.”
Everyone has his or her pet proposal, and there’s an endless supply of less-publicized infrastructure projects that need to be maintained or rebuilt entirely. Funding all of them is another matter.
“We don’t have nearly enough money to do all the infrastructure work we need to do in the state. It’s one thing to have a list of construction projects,” said Krueger. “It’s another thing to come up with the funding to get it done.”
What Got Done in 2012:
Commitments from Hudson region elected officials for new Tappan Zee Bridge
What’s on the Agenda:
Funding affordable housing construction of new downstate buildings
Renovating 400 smaller bridges throughout the state, including the Ashford Avenue Bridge in Dobbs Ferry
Refurbishing crumbling public school buildings in Westchester and Rockland counties and New York City
Merging the Thruway Authority and the Bridge Authority
An Albany convention center
An MTA-run Rockaway Beach Rail Line expanding transportation options in Queens
By Chris Larsen
New York State must reverse the trend of businesses and people leaving the state. To accomplish this, more opportunity for local business must be created and new businesses must be encouraged to locate in the Empire State.
A robust investment in our infrastructure will create many jobs during construction but also the foundation for our businesses to thrive with low-cost and reliable power, communications and transportation.
The state must improve creating opportunities for our local construction industry first. The fact that no New York-owned local contractors are included on any of the teams competing for $5 billion worth of work on the Tappan Zee Bridge shows that the state must think of supporting our local businesses better. The state needs significant investment in our infrastructure—and who better to do it than New York State-owned and -located contractors!
We must also lower cost and seek more value delivering our infrastructure. Archaic laws drive insurance costs to be the highest in America. For example, on the aforementioned Tappan Zee Bridge project, reforms to third party over suit and scaffold laws as well as allowing arbitration in workers’ compensation claims could save hundreds of millions of dollars. Those types of savings could easily add up to a billion dollars a year throughout the whole industry.
New York is not called the Empire State for nothing. We have one of the most educated populations in America, as well as the natural and man-made infrastructure for our businesses to compete in the global economy. Let’s get to work!!!
Building Trades Employers’ Association
By Lou Coletti
While there are signs the construction industry is beginning to awake from the depths of the past few years, Albany action will be necessary for the promise of new jobs and a stronger economy to take hold.
Without changing the Scaffold Law sections 240/241, insurance costs will continue to skyrocket at unprecedented levels, threatening some construction companies’ ability to survive and causing new projects to be delayed or canceled because of cost. New York is the only state in the nation that has this law assigning absolute liability to a contractor for worker accidents.
This current legal environment encourages lawsuit abuse and excessive litigation, dragging down the economy and costing New Yorkers jobs. Every New Yorker pays for frivolous lawsuits through increased costs and higher taxes, and legislative reform is desperately needed.
An important part of the total cost picture is the burden of 240/241. The liability costs of an injured worker’s claim are in addition to the costs paid under Workman’s Compensation. That is, even upon receipt of workers’ compensation benefits, the worker can sue the non-employer owner or contractor, or even third parties.
Another area of importance is to ensure that minority- and women-owned contractors be given the opportunity to build their businesses in the union construction industry. That will take a renewed partnership between union contractors, government and M/WBE contractors. We all need to work together to ensure M/WBE firms have the capacity to provide a commercially useful function and have access to the financing, bonding and other assistance necessary to build their businesses.
New York State Builders Association
The No. 1 issue facing the residential construction industry today is New York’s pernicious Scaffold Law. This anachronistic law declares that an employer is completely liable if an employee were injured on a job site, even if that employee failed to use the safety devices provided, failed to comply with safety instructions or training, and/or was injured as a result of drug or alcohol impairment.
Any worker legitimately injured on the job due to negligence on the part of the builder, contractor or owner should be compensated accordingly. But the current law does not provide a fair playing field for a builder that is facing a liability lawsuit.
Unfortunately, New York is the only state in the nation that holds contractors completely responsible for any fall-related injury at the work site, even if a worker is drunk, on drugs or not wearing safety equipment he or she was instructed and trained to wear. When a worker falls, the contractor has to pay—no matter what.
This increased risk has increased the cost of general liability insurance 300–600 per-cent, reduced coverage, and driven insurance carriers and builders out of the state.
Fortunately, there is a solution to this problem. Assemblyman Joe Morelle and Sen. Pat Gallivan have introduced legislation that would allow the application of a comparative negligence standard in Scaffold Law cases so that any employee negligence that contributed to any “gravity-related” injury may be considered in awards.
Now Gov. Cuomo needs to make sure that both houses of the Legislature reform New York’s Scaffold Law next session.
Tags: Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Andrew Cuomo, Bridge Authority, Building Trades Employer's Association, Chris Christie, Chris Larsen, Halmar International, Liz Krueger, lou coletti, moynihan station, MTA, New York State Builders Association, Tappan Zee Bridge, Thruway Authority, World Trade Center