Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Where the MTA Can Find Savings

The MTA is staring at a $400 million budget gap, and they're looking to close it through a combination of service cuts and other measures that would basically mean more crowded subways and buses during off-peak hours and longer wait times.

So, what else can be done to reduce the budget gap going forward?

How about better construction practices so that we aren't forced to fix or rebuild brand new stations that are already showing signs of decay despite being open less than a year. The South Ferry station was opened in the past year, and is already showing serious signs of decay. Water stains and leaks are everywhere, leading to tile damage (and likely other damage that is hidden behind the walls).
But the contractor, Schiavone Construction of Secaucus, botched the waterproofing for the station, which is located deep under the water table, according to the MTA’s independent engineer. For its part, Schiavone claimed that the MTA had flubbed the project’s design. An independent dispute board ruled last year that both parties were at fault and must share costs for the remediation.

"They gotta fix what the problem is," said Jay Ferrer, 37, a Lower Manhattan straphanger.

Schiavone did not return a request for comment. Next month, the MTA will grout and add new tiles to the station with $3 million, which came from the contractor as part of the settlement, agency spokesman Kevin Ortiz said. The grouting should cure the problem, he said.

“Water infiltration will be addressed,” he said.

But the leaking could continue, as workers will basically fill in joint cracks instead of reengineering the station with better waterproofing technology, Henderson said.
It's basically a band-aid for a problem that will be with the station for the foreseeable future.

Poor construction methods and inadequate design considerations means that the estimated life of the infrastructure is reduced and increases maintenance costs going forward. Better and more stringent design, construction and maintenance would reduce overall costs. So, why is the MTA continuing to work with the same contractors who keep making the same kinds of mistakes?
A system to evaluate contractors’ performance, in place for 12 years, was intended to help the authority keep inadequate contractors from landing future jobs, many of which are worth upward of a million dollars in public funds.

But fewer than 5 percent of the 2,579 contractors evaluated between 2006 and 2008 received a grade of marginal, and fewer than 1 percent were graded unsatisfactory, the lowest mark, according to the report, which was released Tuesday. In several instances, evaluators reported feeling pressured by upper management to raise their ratings, apparently to avoid hampering the authority’s ability to deal with vendors in the future.

“Managers sometimes allowed what they perceived to be agency ‘business decisions’ to override their true assessments of contractor performance,” the report found, noting that there is “an institutional reluctance, for a variety of reasons, to rate contractors’ work as ‘unsatisfactory,’ even when such ratings are the most appropriate.”

The authority is constantly under fire for rampant delays and ballooning budgets on its major construction projects, including the Second Avenue subway, which are often handled nearly entirely by private contractors. Jay H. Walder, the authority’s chairman, admitted last month that some vendors told him they build an “M.T.A. premium” into their bids, because of the perceived difficulty of working on projects with the authority.

“Too often we have let our contractors slide when they fail to perform, and that is why we have accepted the I.G.’s recommendations and are working to implement them,” Mr. Walder said Tuesday in a prepared statement.
Each time that the MTA let a contractor slide when they failed to perform, the costs get passed on to the commuters and taxpayers who have to pay for the problems in lost time and use and money spent to fix the problems.

It's a problem that has to end. Contractors have to live up to their obligations and fix the problems or they are no longer able to work on projects. Each time the MTA works with a contractor who is not fulfilling its obligations, it costs everyone money - money that no one has.

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