Letters to the Editor/Op-ed Pieces

July 13, 2016

Seven way Cuomo can ensure his new agency works, Crain's New York Business

Denise Richardson, Executive Director, General Contractors Association of New York

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has rightly challenged everyone involved in funding and building New York's infrastructure to do it faster, smarter and more cost-effectively, recognizing a simple truth: the Empire State's future rests on it.

The governor's latest initiative is the creation of the New York Design and Construction Corp., where three gubernatorial appointees will review state construction projects of $50 million or more in order to accelerate construction schedules, find efficiencies and eliminate the red tape that adds costs and delays to infrastructure projects.

It would be a cruel irony if the effort has the opposite effect, but that is always a risk with government agencies. To avoid that, the Design and Construction Corp. should adopt these seven principles:

1. Be objective. Ask questions and really listen to the answers. All projects will have issues, and it is more important to find solutions than it is to assess blame.

2. Remember that in between the government agency and the political power of the labor force is a crucial link: the design/engineering and contracting community. These are the people who put their companies' finances and reputations on the line to deliver the project. Without the contracting team, there is no project. Engage and listen to them. Remember that the industry is not always wrong and the government is not always right.

3. Recognize that government employees prefer to avoid controversy and often find it easier to delay an issue than to make a decision. Many mid-level bureaucrats hope the issue moves off their desk and up the chain of command. Institutional avoidance of decision-making hurts the construction industry because time is money.

4. Understand that labor and materials are only part of the project cost—not the total. Every government regulation comes with a price that is ultimately paid by taxpayers.

5. Make sure the initial plans and specifications for the project are exactly what the government agency wants. Change orders will exponentially hike the cost and prolong the construction schedule.

6. Consider that the project budget and schedule developed by the agency might not be accurate, but instead presented for political reasons. A project budget that is deliberately low and a schedule that does not reflect reality will, by definition, result in “cost overruns” and “project delays."

7. Never forget that the purpose of any project is to benefit those who foot the bill—taxpayers. This means that sometimes a project need not be creative or innovative, but simply must serve its intended purpose in the most efficient and cost-effective way. Praise and credit can come later, but often new structural steel underpinning a 50-year-old roadbed doesn't rise to the level of a press release, irrespective of its critical role.

There is no doubt that the governor intends to create a lasting legacy on New York's infrastructure, and his Design and Construction Corp. oversight entity is part of that strategy. Its own role will be based on its ability to act as a genuine catalyst in governmental decision-making, and an appreciation that its success will be based on how it works with the private-sector companies tasked with building the governor's legacy.

 

July 15, 2015

Six Million Reasons Albany Fails, Gotham Gazette

Denise Richardson, Executive Director, General Contractors Association of New York

As another tumultuous Albany session came to a close and our legislators bickered about rent regulations, 421-a, and mayoral control over New York City schools, there was one critical piece of the legislative puzzle conspicuously missing – funding the MTA capital program.

While the constituencies to renew expiring rent regulations (over two million) and extend mayoral control (over 1.1 million public school students) are strong, the key piece holding those two issues together are the nearly six million daily subway riders, many of whom use the system to get to school and home. They will be the people who pay the price for Albany's inaction as they suffer the impacts of train delays, overcrowding and much-needed expansion projects that won't see the light of day, like the next phase of the Second Avenue Subway.

Our subways, buses and commuter rails keep us moving and power the economy. With a physical asset value that tops $1 trillion, the MTA truly is the state's economic development catalyst. How the State could turn its back on a trillion dollar asset that carries nearly nine million riders a day is puzzling, to say the least.

Without a fully funded MTA capital program able to finance needed infrastructure repairs and improvements, several expansion projects to accommodate population growth and surging ridership will be put in jeopardy, including Penn Station access. In addition, contracts for expansion projects under the current MTA capital program may be in limbo. New train cars and station improvements will become a fantasy, not a reality. Every day our trains and buses run, they wear down a little more. If not properly maintained or replaced they break, possibly in a catastrophic way, and cause a ripple effect throughout our economy, sidelining workers, crippling businesses, hobbling neighborhoods, and shaking the very prosperity of the region - and the source of the tax revenue that supports the rest of the state.

Albany's culture of neglecting the MTA has never been more apparent as legislative leaders left town without acknowledging the existence of our region's economic lifeline - a travesty for the city, the metropolitan region, and the state. The message that Albany is sending is clear: go look for jobs and live elsewhere. So for that, we give Albany "a failing grade."

July 9, 2015

To the Editor

RE: Nicole Gelinas, July 9, 2015, “Uber’s Not Causing Traffic Jams- It’s the Crowding Underground”

Nicole Gelinas is spot-on when she says that people are opting for Uber and car services because the subways are increasingly unreliable.  After yet another "signal malfunction" and "brakes in emergency" this morning on the 7 train that extended my 40 minute commute to one hour and 45 minutes, making me miss an important work appointment, I have now joined the ranks of the Uber commuters.  At least I will have some control over when I get to work.

 

March 24, 2014

To the Editor

New York State's Job Engine, New York Post

Denise Richardson, Executive Director, General Contractors Association of New York

The sobering statistic in the just published Center for an Urban Future report that 88 percent of New York’s job growth in the past 10 years has taken place in New York City accentuates the fact that the city is the state’s only viable economic engine, and that all efforts should be made to prime the pump of that engine (“88% New NYS Jobs in Apple,” March 20).

It is obligatory, then, that our political leaders provide that vital engine with the fuel it needs in the form of robust funding of road, bridge and tunnel repairs, as well as full funding of the MTA’s five-year capital plan, which has a $15 billion deficit. Otherwise, we’ll be faced with the real prospect of a slowing economy downstate and negative state job growth. Job growth at that point may be limited to hiring workers to erect “Going Out of Business” signs at our state’s borders.

 

March 23, 2015

To the Editor

Crain's New York Business

Denise Richardson, Executive Director, General Contractors Association of New York

Greg David rightly cites the quality of opportunities that the construction industry provides to hardworking New Yorkers. Yet what he terms as unflattering characteristics about the industry are disputed by the facts. The face of union construction in the city is evolving to encourage a workforce that represents the diversity of our society. Data from the Building Trades Employers' Association show that nearly two-thirds of building trade union apprentices are minorities and more than 11% are women. These numbers are part of a growing trend that will spread to other sectors of our industry as we work with local government to encourage people from different backgrounds to pick up their hard hats and tool belts to build a bigger and better New York.

 

January 11, 2015

To the Editor

Why Construction Costs are Up, Crain's New York Business

Denise Richardson, Executive Director, General Contractors Association of New York

Missing from Crain's story "Construction boom triggers big jump in building costs" (Dec. 8) are the real costs associated with noise-code compliance, environmental health and safety rules, diesel equipment retrofit mandates, storm-water runoff management and a multitude of other regulatory requirements, not to mention the archaic scaffold law, deemed "New York's stupidest law" by a Crain's editorial.

Taken on their own, each new requirement has merit, but their associated compliance costs in totality are being reflected in rising construction costs, along with insurance premiums increasing by an average of 20% this year. During the recession, many contractors were forced to absorb these costs in an effort to get work to keep their key people employed and to stay afloat. Now that the business cycle has shifted, these costs are being reflected in bids for work.

 

December 19, 2014

TO THE EDITOR:

With Electric Jackhammers, Plans to Quiet an Earsplitting Sound (Sam Roberts, Dec 18):

Denise Richardson, Executive Director, General Contractors Association of New York

Mr. Robert’s story implies that electric jackhammers are a panacea for eliminating the “earsplitting noise” associated with jackhammer work.  In fact, it is not.  They have limitations.

They’re considerably larger than a pneumatic jackhammer with the same energy, making them more dangerous than more nimble pneumatic jackhammers when working around live utilities, which exist in abundance below our city streets. Electric jackhammers are not available in the size that is most commonly used to break pavement, the 90 lb class jackhammer. Also, the electric jackhammer referenced is designed to work primarily in the vertical down position. It is not suited, as is the pneumatic jackhammer, for work in the horizontal position.

Contractors in New York City have experimented with electric jackhammers for decades, and they have proven to be not nearly as efficient as traditional jackhammers.  However, our contractors are open to testing new innovative equipment that may mitigate noise and soften the impact to neighborhoods faced with necessary construction.

November 16, 2014

Straphangers are Fortunate the MTA increase is only 4%, New York Daily News

Denise Richardson, Executive Director General Contractors Association of New York

The MTA took a hit this spring when Albany raided its coffers of over $50 million, in addition to recent labor settlements that are being paid for through the diversion of “pay-as-you-go” capital. Given those factors — along with the $15 billion gap in its five-year capital program and Controller Tom DiNapoli’s July report on the billions needed to maintain and modernize existing transit systems — the MTA could have easily reverted back to its originally planned fare increase of 7.5%. Instead, it opted not to, even though the reduced fare increase will put additional pressure on borrowing and thus the operating budget and service delivery. Our policymakers in Albany should recognize more than ever that the MTA is the economic engine that keeps the city and state moving. They must do everything they can to ensure that the next MTA capital program is fully funded. It’s what all passengers depend on for a safe, secure and reliable ride. 

September 8, 2014

The MTA Capital Plan: Time to Mind The Gap

By Denise Richardson, Executive Director, General Contractors Association of New York

 

This month, New York State finds itself in the unprecedented position of wrestling with how to use unexpected revenue from a couple of large legal settlements.  The timing couldn’t be more opportune, since next month, the MTA releases a draft of its legislatively mandated five year capital plan, one widely expected to show a $12-$15 billion funding gap.   

It’s time to use most -- if not all – of those monies to fill that gap, rather than sprinkling the dollars around on political favors or short term budget relief.  

Using the settlement funds for the MTA would, make sense, since its capital investments have, since 1982, been the cornerstone of the revival of the metropolitan region.  Those investments, however, have done more than just help downstate.  They’ve generated many thousands of jobs and contributed to the fact that the MTA region now generates 78% of the State’s tax revenue.  But sense rarely prevails in Albany, as evidenced by several actions that have systematically undercut the MTA’s ability to fund its plan over the last year:  

Last  December’s news that planned 2015 fare increases would be cut from 7.5% to 4%, costing the MTA $900 million over four years.  That could have leveraged many multiples in bonds for essentials like constructing additional bus depots and adding  capacity, upgrading signals, or purchasing new buses, subway and rail cars -- the majority of which are built upstate. 

March’s grab by State budgeteers of $30 million originally slated to pay off MTA debt came on top of last year’s $20 million diversion and is planned to continue through 2031 for net loss to the MTA of $350 million.  That cumulatively deprives the MTA of $6.6 billion in bonding capacity for projects like extending the Second Avenue Subway to 125th Street or constructing new stations in the Bronx for Metro-North Access to Penn Station.  

April’s $7 million Verrazano toll “rebate” for Staten Islanders.  Those revenues could have supported $130 million in bonding for a new Staten Island bus depot or been the down payment on an extension of the State Island Rapid Transit Operating Authority (SIRTOA).

To cover the cost of its latest labor settlements, the MTA siphoned off $80 million annually from its capital budget, funds that could have generated $1.5 billion in bonds for essential capital projects like track and station rehabilitations. 

There’s little argument that 30 years of capital programs saved the MTA from total collapse, but the truth is its barely treading water.  Comptroller DiNapoli recently noted that MTA 2009–14 expenditures were 43% below the real need.  And with ridership up over 20% during this period, the MTA should be focused on not only existing, but future, needs.  

Instead, the MTA could once again be faced with the prospect of self-funding its capital program through increased borrowing, which has already jumped from 30% of 1982’s plan to 61% of the most recent one.  That trend is neither wise nor sustainable and drains the MTA’s operating budget of over a billion dollars a year in debt. Using these unexpected settlements to end the practice makes eminent sense.   

It’s time for Albany to put an end to the games that continue to undermine the busiest transit system in the Western Hemisphere and come up with a plan that closes its capital and operating gaps.  The future of the MTA, the region, and the State is riding on it.

 

 

April 28, 2014

Letter to the Editor

Gateway -- A Tunnel to Our Future

The headline of AP reporter Verena Dobnik’s April 28th article: “In NYC, a $185M tunnel that leads nowhere, for now,” got it all wrong. 

Far from “nowhere,” this first element of the larger Gateway project is an example of good infrastructure planning in the nascent stages of a larger development.  Once the Hudson Yards’ foundations are in place, tunneling under them would be nigh impossible.

So, too, would be achieving the enormous benefits Gateway offers the region and the nation:  

  • Speeding up travel for 260 million passengers a year who travel all along the Northeast Corridor (NEC). 
  • Relieving air traffic congestion for millions more, not only in the skies in the northeast, but nationally since nearly half of the country’s air traffic flows through the New York metropolitan area. 
  • Eliminating bottlenecks caused by Amtrak’s two over 100-year-old tunnels under the Hudson River damaged by Hurricane Sandy. 
  • Providing additional access and capacity not only for Amtrak, but for NJ Transit, the LIRR and Metro-North at Penn Station, where two out of three trips on the NEC either begins or ends. 

As obvious as all those benefits are, we came within days of losing a life line to the future had Senator Chuck Schumer not stepped in to orchestrate a solution among rail systems such as Amtrak, NJ Transit and the MTA, federal agencies including DOT, DHS and FEMA, and the private sector developer who was just about to build.  

The current investment is a wise use of resources to ensure Gateway can advance when sufficient funds and investments become available.  Support needs to come from every Senator along the NEC, as well as from Governors whose states will benefit.

Tunnel to nowhere?  Not!   Everyone should get onboard with the first piece of the “Tunnel to Our Future.”  

 

September 11, 2012

Letter to the Editor- Crain's New York Business

Greg David’s September 10th “Memo to MTA Boss: Payroll Tax Must Go” misses the mark regarding why the payroll mobility tax (PMT) was instituted in the first place and who it benefits. Users of the MTA’s network are far from the only ones who gain from the PMT. A healthy regional transportation network reduces congestion and promotes economic development for all, and in the case of the MTA, dramatically increases real estate values whether you live in Nesconsit, New Rochelle or even as far north as Newburgh. Losing the $1.4 billion a year the PMT nets means having to make up the difference through potentially more painful tax increases, service cuts -- or dramatic fare hikes on the LIRR and Metro-North.

The PMT’s biggest obstacle may simply be the lack of understanding about its intended purpose, how its collected and the fact that politicians themselves have stoked it as a rallying cry similar to the federal gas tax - which itself hasn’t been raised since 1993, even to keep pace with inflation. Although collected separately instead of with other business taxes, businesses can deduct some of the PMT from their federal taxes.

It’s easy for some elected officials to complain about the PMT without suggesting alternative ways to fund the country’s biggest regional transportation provider. Until they come up with some, the PMT remains the most balanced way of sharing the cost of operating and modernizing a world class transit system that benefits millions directly and indirectly each day.

Denise Richardson

Managing Director - General Contractors Association of NY

 

August 6, 2012

Let's hear candidates' plans for MTA. The city needs a well-run transit system to grow its jobs base.

Crain's New York Business

With the 2013 mayoral campaign fast approaching and candidates beginning to speak out on the major issues, it is imperative that the city's pressing infrastructure needs, particularly in the area of public transportation, take center stage. Mayoral hopefuls need to talk frankly about how the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is financed and what they'll do to support it.

Mayor Bloomberg's administration initiated and funded the extension of the No. 7 subway line, which is commendable. But not every transit capital need is quite as high-profile. The next mayor must continue sharing the cost of more routine capital and operating needs. Those needs are great—and growing. It is well recognized that for any city to grow its jobs base, it needs a well-run and well-maintained transportation network.

The candidates must look at what can and should be done to fund the system, which is synonymous with New York City and which fuels the entire downstate region's $1.26 trillion economy.

Too often, city officials and candidates look only to Albany, Washington, D.C., and the suburbs for funding solutions. However, a look at the numbers shows that part of the hit to the MTA has been a reduction in New York City's own contributions, going back as far as the Dinkins administration.

In 1992, the city reduced funding to the MTA from $205 million per year, where it had been since 1982, to just $105 million, a level that was lowered to $75 million in the mid-2000s but returned to $105 million in just the past couple of years.

A $105 million line item in the context of the city's $69 billion budget (a budget more than twice what it was in 1993) is a travesty for a system carrying 7 million subway and bus riders each day. And while $105 million may seem trivial in the context of the MTA's overall needs, the cumulative loss is between $2 billion and $4 billion since the first reduction, a significant figure by any measure.

All of the current mayoral candidates have spoken in general terms about the importance of the transit system, and one has suggested the state institute a new commuter tax. While we welcome the discussion on this and similar financing ideas, the truth is that this tax is not within the mayor's authority to impose.

More support from Albany, Washington and the suburbs would surely be most welcome, but so would a frank discussion by the mayoral candidates about their plans to make MTA capital needs a true city budget priority.

Denise Richardson is managing director of the General Contractors Association of New York.


August 9, 2010

One Bridge Fixed...but our infrastructure needs demand new funding

New York Post

Whaddya know? You can get there from here.

Today, the new Willis Avenue Bridge is due to be eased into place, completing its carefully planned journey by barge to its permanent home. It will replace a structure built in 1901 and now one of the lowest-rated bridges in New York City. The replacement arrived literally in the nick of time. More than 70,000 vehicles a day use the bridge, which has been past the point of no return for years. Yet this is just one success story among a limitless need to replace and upgrade our transportation network. These days, it's all too common for infrastructure projects to be put on hold, delayed or cancelled.

We're going from bad to worse -- and fast. Earlier this year, the transportation think-tank TRIP released a report highlighting the crisis state of New York's infrastructure. Some 82 percent of major roads in the city are in poor condition, and 35 percent of bridges are structurally deficient. Traffic congestion costs the average driver 44 hours a year. A lack of funding is delaying such critical projects as the renovation of Kosciuszko Bridge and the expansion of the Major Deegan Expressway, while officials are reducing the scope of other projects so that they only meet immediate needs and provide no room for growth. The state Department of Transportation and MTA five-year capital programs face a $20 billion funding gap over the next five years.

Too many elected leaders opt to postpone the decisions to launch genuine infrastructure improvements because they don't want any vote in favor of a tax hike coming anywhere near their names -- and are also unwilling to fully disclose to their constituents how the "dedicated" taxes they already pay are diverted to other uses. Our dedicated highway and bridge trust fund is broke - with 37.7 percent of its revenues over the last 16 years having gone to cover state operating expenses rather than to pay for the repairs and other basic work it was set up to fund.On top of that, the state collects $1.15 billion a year in gasoline-sales taxes, supposedly to fund transportation needs -- yet the money instead goes to the general fund, never to be seen when it comes time to fund a road, bridge or transit project.

The problem is not exclusive to New York. Federal transportation policy is stuck in its own holding pattern because no politician wants to venture near the hot-button issue of raising the gasoline tax, the proven generator of user fees that have paid for our transportation infrastructure since 1956. The continued deterioration of our ability to move people and goods has chilling implications for America's economy. A partial solution is found at the pump. Without question, taxes have become the bane of our society -- yet few can offer an alternative to gasoline taxes as a funding source to repair the roads that move our economy. Yes, the public has every right to be cynical that gas taxes will yield a smoother, safer ride -- since officials already siphon off dedicated highway-trust money for other government spending. To win public acceptance of these taxes, infrastructure advocates need to do far better at proving the direct connection between the taxes charged at the pump and the condition of our roads and bridges. And the revenue must go to irrevocable trusts that will reliably direct the taxes to the specific purpose they were raised for. Organizations like the US Chamber of Commerce, the American Trucking Association and AAA are now united in support of a gas-tax increase to fund transportation improvements - because they all recognize that safe roads and bridges keep the economy and the drivers moving.

Overall, Americans are paying the lowest gasoline taxes since the early days of the automobile. Federal fuel taxes have lost 33 percent of their purchasing power since the last increase in 1993 -- yet there's plainly no support for a new hike. Meanwhile, states continue to pilfer from gas-tax trust funds and underfund capital programs. Elected officials face a simple choice: Either preside over a crumbling and often dangerous transportation infrastructure -- or build political support for a funding structure that can do the job, and so strengthen our city, our economy and our future. The arrival of the new Willis Avenue Bridge is a dramatic demonstration of a success that's been years in the making. We can get there from here. But we need to be willing to pay for it.

Denise Richardson is the managing director of the General Contractors Association of NY.

April 4, 2010

Paterson plays a rotten game of 'chicken': Gov is putting thousands of construction jobs at risk

NY Daily News

There is a new and highly dangersous blood sport being played in Albany, with politicians using needed road and bridge projects - and the hardworking construction tradespople who've been tasked to fix them - as their pawns.

It must stop, before thousands more New Yorkers in our already suffering state lose their jobs.

Gov. Paterson, with the complicity of the vacationing Legislature, has decided to stop payments on all state-funded road and bridge construction projects until the Legislature approves a new state budget. It's a ruse of course, as the dollars put into the pipeline for these crucial projects have been long accounted for.

Paterson doesn't seem to care. Instead, he hopes to deepen the crisis environment in Albany to the point where legislators have no choice but to approve his spending plan. Whoever you think is right in the larger busget fight, this game of chicken will only serve to hurt the contractors that have invested their financial and sweat equity in keeping New York's roads and bridges in what the state considers acceptable condition.

Worse, it threatens to aggravate the job situation just as we could be on the cusp of turning the corner. The affected New York construction companies employ around 5,000 workers. They had played by all the rules - competitively bidding on public contracts, laying out their own money for advance expenses and hiring staff - only to be told to "never mind."

It's a particularly bitter irony that this is happening just a few months after many in government were cheerleading new investments in building and maintaining infrastructure.

What is particularly ominous for these companies is that, under the terms they signed with the state, they are not even allowed to stop work for nonpayment. That means they have to keep working on these multimillion-dollar projects without any assurance of ever getting late payments from a state facing a fiscal crisis.

No other industry would ever sign such a document, but the construction companies have no choice if they wish to participate in building New York's infrastructure.

A key executive at Halmar International, Chris Larsen, has stated he will have little choice but to shut down the $407 million repair job currently underway on the decrepit Alexander Hamilton Bridge if the issue isn't resolved soon. He tells me that he and his partners can't possibly float the $10 million monthly expense of repairing this crucial span that supports I-95 over the Harlem River.

That bridge repair project, which puts some 250 construction men and women to work, is just the tip of the iceberg. Some albany insiders are advising construction companies to take a deep breath and play along with this political dance, no matter how destructive it may be. Yet the reality is no one knows any longer where these dysfunctional Albany policies will take the state.

New York needs to leverage this fiscal crisis into an opportunity to create a substantive change.

Instead, the governor and the Legislature seem prepared to do everything in their power to avoid harming the sensitivities of the public sector unions - agreeing to years of pension "sweeteners," excessive raises, no-layoff pledges and the like. Meantime, when it comes to private secotr unions, they are prepared to watch thousands of workers lose their jobs. The contrast is infuriating, and the consequences are tragic.

—Denise Richardson
Managing Director
General Contractors Association of New York

 

January 10, 2010

MTA: don't eat the seed corn

Crain’s New York Business

Efforts to pressure the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to reallocate money that's now in its capital budget to offset shortfalls in its operating budget are a recipe for disaster. While this scenario might solve an immediate cash crisis, history has shown that in the long run, it hurts the MTA, harms taxpayers, burdens riders and negatively impacts the workforce. The MTA is beginning the year without an approved capital plan for 2010-14. There is now $50 million in the operating budget for capital expenditures, and these dollars will be needed if the MTA is to continue with current capital expenditures and have any chance of drawing upon any new federal funding that may come its way.

We also must recognize that as New York City's construction industry unemployment continues to rise, the MTA capital program is one of the only sources of new construction work in the metro area. More than ever, the short-fall in the payroll tax proves that New York state needs every private-sector job it can create—and the MTA capital plan is critical to this effort.

—Denise Richardson
Managing Director
General Contractors Association of New York

RE: Nicole Gelinas, July 9, 2015, “Uber’s Not Causing Traffic Jams- It’s the Crowding Underground”

 

Nicole Gelinas is spot-on when she says that people are opting for Uber and car services because the subways are increasingly unreliable.  After yet another "signal malfunction" and "brakes in emergency" this morning on the 7 train that extended my 40 minute commute to one hour and 45 minutes, making me miss an important work appointment, I have now joined the ranks of the Uber commuters.  At least I will have some control over when I get to work.

 

Denise Richardson, Executive Director of the General Contractors Association of New York