Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Tappan Zee Bridge Replacement Project Gets Labor Agreement

The Tappan Zee Bridge, which is operated by the New York State Thruway Authority, is scheduled to be replaced. Part of the costs associated with the project are labor costs, and the state just signed a Project Labor Agreement with a number of unions that are supposed to save nearly $500 million in costs over the life of the project.
Replacing the Tappan Zee Bridge represents one of the largest public infrastructure project in the nation, and the agreement reached today will allow thousands of New York’s working men and women to secure good jobs building a new, safer bridge,” Governor Cuomo said. “This agreement will save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, while putting in place important protections for our workers. For too long we have talked about replacing the Tappan Zee, and we cannot wait any longer. Now is the time for action.”

Key provisions contained in the PLA include:

  • A standardized 40 hour straight time work week for all trades and the flexibility to schedule four 10 hour work days to optimize construction for a combined estimated savings of $122,956,095 million;
  • A higher ratio of apprentices to journeypersons than typically allowed in collective bargaining agreements, saving an estimated $59 million;
  • Giving workers that arrive one hour prior to their shift $25 a day rather than an hour of overtime, saving an estimated $59 million;
  • Standardized holidays that eliminates overtime for service trades saves an approximate $2.6 million.
The PLA also creates employment opportunities for union members across the Hudson Valley and New York Metropolitan Region, assures payment of fringe benefits, and acts as a mechanism to settle jurisdictional disputes through an organized grievance process. A stipulation of the agreement states that lock-out or other work disruptions, including renegotiations of area Collective Bargaining Agreements, is not permitted.
The project is still expected to cost $5.2 billion, which makes the agreement a considerable effort to contain costs. The final design has yet to be agreed upon, and while it is supposed to provide for mass transit options, it will not be built with either light or heavy rail or bus rapid transit. That means that the cost will be lower at the outset but it also means that commuters through the Lower Hudson Valley will have no new cross-river mass transit options.

Work is already underway to ascertain riverbed conditions and the kind of piling and foundations that will need to be built across the river.

However, bond ratings agencies have downgraded the Thruway Authority's rating on the outlook for revenues to cover the construction. That affects the Authority's costs for bonding the new bridge work, and suggests the need for higher tolls systemwide to cover the construction.

Members of the state's Congressional delegation are hoping to get federal funding for the bridge replacement but with Congress essentially deadlocked on any kind of new/additional funding, that's a tough task. Infrastructure spending has long lasting benefits to economic development, including more safer and more efficient transportation, reduced congestion, and the immediate benefit of jobs for construction and associated trades.

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