ALBANY – All but $10 million of the $198 million in road projects due Western New York will be awarded by the fiscal year’s end March 31, says State Transportation Department Commissioner Joan McDonald.
But skeptical lawmakers and highway construction officials will begin weekly and quarterly tracking systems to keep them to their word.
It also is not clear what $10 million in projects will remain unfunded, according to highway construction officials.
But after word of the stalled projects from 2012 became public in recent months, the state transportation agency has jump-started awarding contracts for road and bridge projects, state officials and road industry executives say.
Still, work on many projects that was supposed to have started last year won’t get under way until this May or June, industry officials say.
“We lost a construction season, and now with this tracking and letting the commissioner know that we know how to do the tracking, we’re going to be on top of this. We’re going to make sure these projects are done,” said State Sen. Mark Grisanti, a Buffalo Republican.
Lawmakers say they will hold weekly telephone conferences with representatives from the Fair Apportionment of Infrastructure Revenues Committee, a local group of private companies and unions involved in road projects, to ensure timetables are being met. They also say they have demanded the state DOT live up to the terms of a memorandum of understanding and provide quarterly updates on contracts awarded and work that has begun.
Alan Pero, a top official with Local 17, International Union of Operating Engineers, who runs the FAIR construction umbrella group, said he is “cautiously optimistic” that the state DOT will award most of the final 2012-approved contracts by March 28.
“That’s with the caveat that those jobs should have been out there last April and May,” he said of the impact on local road construction jobs by what he called “the perfect storm of screw-ups that cost us the construction season for 2012.”
The state will end up spending $2 million more on state-owned roads and bridges in the region than planned, though only $42 million of the $73 million on local government-owned roads and bridges has been awarded so far, McDonald said in a letter this week to State Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Charles Fuschillo.
Pero said his group does not yet know what projects will remain unfunded, and he plans to meet with Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz to discuss the $10 million in projects.
But Pero said the state is still producing “misleading” information about the road work process. For instance, he said a DOT document that shows a $16 million project on Routes 5 and 20 in the Seneca Nation’s Cattaraugus Territory was awarded last July; he said that contract is not set to be awarded until later this month.
The problem delayed work on a slew of projects scattered around the region, and Western New York lawmakers said the area was treated differently than other DOT regions around the state. Among the projects delayed was rehabilitation of three bridges over the Kensington Expressway, repaving the Youngmann Highway in Amherst and the Town of Tonawanda, repaving a large part of the Kensington Expressway and construction of the Millennium Parkway in Dunkirk.