DOT head endorses design-build, touts Cuomo’s ambitious infrastructure agenda

At forum, Building Congress prez casts doubts on planned Long Island tunnel

<em>Rendering of the new Tappan Zee Bridge (inset from left: Richard Anderson and Matthew Driscoll)</em>
Rendering of the new Tappan Zee Bridge (inset from left: Richard Anderson and Matthew Driscoll)

The proposed tunnel through the Long Island Sound, according to the head of the New York State Department of Transportation, isn’t just a pipe dream.

“When there’s a gleam in the governor’s eye, he means business,” DOT Commissioner Matthew Driscoll said during a forum held Thursday morning by the New York Building Congress. “It’s very real.”

In January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed investing $5 million to study the feasibility of a tunnel connecting Long Island to either Westchester County, Connecticut or the Bronx, an idea first hatched in 1938.

After the forum, New York Building Congress President Richard Anderson told The Real Deal that he still has doubts. The tunnel would likely take a backseat to most of the other colossal projects proposed by Cuomo, such as the $3.6 billion overhaul of LaGuardia airport, Anderson said.

“It’s a lower priority, probably the lowest priority in the $100 billion initiative,” he said. “But you can make a case for it.”

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For much of the forum, Driscoll touted the governor’s proposed $100 billion investment into state’s infrastructure, which revives several long-delayed projects like Moynihan Station and Penn Station. Repeating what is becoming a favorite comparison for members of Cuomo’s administration, Driscoll said the investment would be the largest of its kind since the days of Robert Moses.

But in recent weeks, critics have voiced concerns about the fuzzy financing behind Cuomo’s initiative, which includes a plan to invest $26 billion into the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Legislators aren’t convinced the state can pay its $8.3 billion portion of the MTA’s budget.

Throughout the forum, the DOT Commissioner emphasized the value of design-build, a delivery system in which the owner of a project signs one contract with a single firm that handles both the design and construction of the project, theoretically reducing costs and delays. Cuomo wants to make design-build permanent in New York and envisions expanding the practice to a number of state agencies, like the Empire State Development Corporation, which is leading the redevelopment of the Javits Center, Penn Station and the Farley Post Office.

The Building Congress has long been a proponent of design-build, and Anderson told TRD that several city agencies should also be authorized to use the delivery system.

The method is crucial to getting major projects off the ground in a timely and cost-effective manner, Driscoll said. The agency has 23 design-build contracts and three in procurement.

“It will never replace design-bid-build, nor should it,” he said. “I’m a true believer, I like to spread it around, make sure that everyone gets a bite of the apple to help support economies all over the state. But having said that, I think with very big projects, design build makes a lot of sense.”