Opinion

Design-build would allow New York City to build smarter and faster

By Carlo Scissura and Louis Coletti |  

March 15, 2017 |  

Road workers doing pipe repair work on a supply line on West 43rd Street on Manhattan. (Nielskliim / Shutterstock)

Construction in New York City continues to boom at record levels. The five boroughs are home to more than $70 billion in new construction projects over the past two years. That work is benefitting our economy in the form of new jobs, additional consumer spending and increased tax revenue. This level of economic activity is the envy of much of the United States.

But we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. Projects initiated in the public sector, including roads, bridges, subways and sewer systems, dipped slightly for the third consecutive year in 2016, according to a New York Building Congress analysis of construction data. Both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio have committed to improving the region’s essential public works infrastructure – our airports, roads, bridges and mass transit system. In order to continue our momentum, we need to make sure that government at all levels is given the right tools to get the job done in the most efficient and cost effective way.

In his executive budget proposal, Gov. Cuomo included a worthwhile proposal to expand the use of design-build to all state agencies and counties outside the city of New York. Design-build is a procurement method that lets public agencies contract engineering and construction work through a single process, ensuring proper accountability for delivering projects on time and on budget. It frees government to spend more of its resources on delivering projects, and fewer on change orders and procurement lawyers. The state has made tremendous use of design-build since its initial pilot launched in 2011, including the state Department of Transportation – on a wide variety of contracts totaling $1.37 billion – and  the Thruway Authority for the $3.9 billion contract for the New NY Bridge.

All 50 states use design-build in some capacity for public projects; bringing this tool to the world’s greatest city, New York City, is long overdue.

When we talk about design-build, the average New Yorker may wonder what’s in it for them, so we want to put this construction method in concrete terms, no pun intended. The massive amount of construction in recent years has unfortunately resulted in real disruptions to people’s commutes and other important parts of their day-to-day lives. Design-build, when appropriately implemented, can shave between one and two years off of the schedule of a big infrastructure project. That means a faster end to detours, closures and other inconveniences, as well as quicker construction of police precincts, libraries and firehouses.

Design-build can also help the public sector achieve real and significant financial savings. A survey of New York City capital agencies identified more than $450 million in potential savings from approximately $7.3 billion in projects. This means the city would be able to complete more critical projects, further improving our infrastructure and growing our economy. Concerns are often raised every time government starts doing something new. That’s why it is important that design-build is done well and done right on the first try. To his credit, in seeking the authority, Mayor de Blasio has conducted extensive stakeholder engagement resulting in support from the business community, major industry associations and organized labor. The city is committed to smart and informed implementation.

New York City will commit $89.6 billion in its ten-year capital strategy plan, with 76 percent of those funds allocated for various infrastructure projects, including school construction, public housing, and health and hospitals. The option to use design-build could enable the city to deliver many of these projects on a faster timetable while saving taxpayer dollars. For the sake of our economy, and the well-being of all New Yorkers, now is the time to act. Without further delay, the governor and Legislature should grant design-build authority for New York City.  

Carlo A. Scissura is the president and CEO of the New York Building Congress. Louis J. Coletti is the president and CEO of the Building Trades Employers’ Association.

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