GCA Speaker Series Featured NYC’s Infrastructure Commissioners

The General Contractors Association of New York hosted a lively discussion with the Commissioners of New York City’s infrastructure agencies on June 13th. The panel featured DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, DDC Commissioner Feniosky Peña-Mora, and DEP Commissioner Vincent Sapienza and was moderated by Denise Richardson and Mitchell Moss, Henry Hart Rice Professor of Urban Policy & Planning and Director of Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management at NYU.

The conversation focused on the current projects the agencies were working on, improvements that could be made to the City’s procurement process, and the importance of partnership between the city’s agencies and its contractors.

Current Projects and Priorities

“Our short-term work remains particularly focused on vision zero,” said Commissioner Trottenberg when asked about current priorities for DOT projects. DOT is working with the MTA to create better bus lanes and improve camera analytics for traffic and parking, particularly in light of congestion due to the City’s rapidly growing population.

Commissioner Peña-Mora also spoke of meeting the needs of the city’s growing population and outlined some of the major projects DDC was working on including the Passerrelle Bridge and the reconstruction of Queens Boulevard Phase 2.

Perhaps nothing is more essential to the City’s growing population than a reliable water source, and Commissioner Sapienza focused on the work that was being done to complete Water Tunnel 3.  According to Commissioner Sapienza, the tunnel will be ready for activation, in case of an emergency issue with one of the other two tunnels, by the end of 2017 and fully in service by 2030. In discussing DEP’s capital plan of over $18 BB, Commissioner Sapienza noted that the massive commitment from the Mayor was a double edged sword as it creates more of a procurement bottleneck and that it’s up to all of us, the agency and its contractors, to get those projects moving.

Frustration with the procurement process

All three commissions expressed frustrations with the City’s procurement processes and agreed that allowing for the registration of contingency budgets would eliminate delays for infrastructure projects.

When speaking out the ways the procurement process has influenced who bids on projects, Commissioner Sapienza said “a lot of smaller companies are disincentivized from bidding on city projects because they can’t handle those delays. I think there’s recognition now that if we want to encourage smaller firms and MWBE firms to bid on our projects, we need to take a look at how long things take to move along in the procurement cycles.

Commissioner Peña-Mora agreed with Commissioner Trottenberg and Commissioner Sapienza that more needed to be done to hasten the procurement and change-order process, and that contingencies should be built into the contract to begin with, so that each change does not require its own lengthy approval, thereby slowing down the entire project. In regards to Commissioner Sapienza’s point about delays discouraging smaller companies and DMWBE’s from bidding, he said the City should be trying to be able to provide lower interest rates to even things out.

Working Together

A recurring theme from the discussion was partnership. All three commissioners said that it was key to have both interagency coordination between themselves and with private sector contractors.

“We want your honest feedback,” said Commissioner Trottenberg. “We can’t fix problems if we don’t hear from you.”

“We want to work well with you,” said Commissioner Peña-Mora. “We want to be the client of choice.”