Gov. Hochul must resolve Cuomo Bridge dispute, build trust, contractors warn

Gov. Hochul must resolve Cuomo Bridge dispute, build trust, contractors warn

Dive Brief:

  • The companies that built the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge under former Gov. Andrew Cuomo are warning Gov. Kathy Hochul to resolve financial disputes related to the $4 billion project or risk losing out on major contracting deals.
  • The statements from consortium Tappan Zee Constructors (TZC) come in Hochul’s first month in the role, and indicate she will need to work hard to overcome her predecessor’s legacy and build trust with contractors. 
  • The former governor’s behavior “has significantly reduced the likelihood of TZC and its member companies working in New York State in the future, and multiple companies within our membership explicitly have no current plans to work in New York until this matter is resolved in a satisfactory manner,” Sam Choy, the TZC executive in charge of the project, wrote in a letter obtained by Politico.

Dive Insight:

The 3.1-mile bridge spanning the Hudson River, named after Cuomo’s father, is one of his signature projects. The former governor frequently boasted about delivering it on time and on budget, but the builders say this was only possible because they were forced to cover nearly $1 billion in cost overruns. The bridge, which opened in 2017, was built through a design-build process that was first of its kind for major construction projects in New York. 

On Sept. 9 in the letter, TZC, a design-build team that includes Fluor, American Bridge, Traylor Bros. and Granite Construction, reiterated its stance that Cuomo interfered with the project via the New York State Thruway Authority, changing agreed-upon design plans that delayed the project and and drove up costs, which the city then refused to pay. TZC also said that the Thruway Authority refused to extend the project timeline despite unavoidable issues like a tugboat crash and winter weather, instead pushing it to accelerate work. 

“In their collective 400 years of operation, our member companies have never experienced this level of disregard from a project client,” Choy wrote in the letter.

TZC sued the city in February after three years of trying to resolve the issue privately. Months later, the authority settled some claims for $28 million, and TZC withdrew its lawsuit ahead of further talks with Cuomo prior to his resignation. Now, however, TZC wants to be paid back. It is seeking $961 million plus interest for extra costs associated with inclement weather, a crane collapse and interference from Thruway.

Each day that passes without an agreement means higher costs for everyone involved due to interest accumulating on the claims. That could mean hikes on toll prices if the bridge’s total price tag exceeds the $4 billion budget, TZC said.

In another layer of legal drama, a 2017 whistleblower lawsuit unsealed in March alleged that crucial defects were covered up during the bridge’s construction, the Times Union reported. TZC and the state deny the accusation, but TZC paid $2 million to settle the case.

Despite the troubled history, TZC leaders say they are hoping for an opportunity to turn a new leaf with Hochul, Politico reports. Neither her administration nor TZC responded to Construction Dive’s request for comment.

In related news, Hochul’s administration is now re-examining remaining Andrew Cuomo-era infrastructure projects — including AirTrain LaGuardia and the Penn Station redevelopment — and may delay or scrap them, according to The Wall Street Journal. Opponents said these projects are not well-thought-out, and it would be more cost-effective to expand free bus service than to install the $2.1 billion AirTrain. Regarding the Penn Station project, some critics said it would be better to wait and see if commuters return post-pandemic before building the towering transit and office complex.

 

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