“Scaffold law” among leading causes of exorbitant NY infrastructure costs — GCANY

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Construction of a future Gateway Program tunnel portal at West Side Yard in Manhattan (Wikipedia)

New York’s unionized contractors say infrastructure projects are excessively protracted and expensive largely because of the state’s “scaffold law”, along with changing plans and goals for state-led undertakings.

The General Contractors Association of New York’s (GCANY) “Deconstructing the Cost of Construction” report outlines what the trade group calls “the real story” — the state’s regulatory and management structures don’t work, Crain’s New York Business reports.

The longstanding scaffold law imposes absolute liability for any gravity-related injury upon a contractor or owner even if the worker is largely to blame. GCANY says the rule has jacked up risk costs and pushed insurers out of the market.

“It asserted that the law adds 10 percent to every construction budget—and as much as $300 million to the proposed overhaul of several Amtrak assets connecting New York and New Jersey, collectively called the Gateway project,” Crain’s reported.

GCANA also says that insurance costs are 75 percent higher in New York than in neighboring Connecticut “for the same contractor doing the same type of work with the same workforce.”

“The scaffold law doesn’t protect workers. It harms the public when funds are taken away from building schools and rehabilitating train stations to pay for ever higher insurance costs,” the study says.

There are other reasons for high construction costs in New York, the report says.

GCANY says there are often massive changes in project scope, designs and orders from the government and public authorities after awarding contracts and even after work has begun or finished. “It recommended municipalities determine definitively what a project will entail before accepting bids, submit blueprints to independent review to ensure workability and solicit more input during the planning phase to avoid change orders,” Crain’s reported.

Other causes of  construction costs include inefficient procurement processes, burdensome regulations, poor coordination, leadership turnover in government, funding interruptions and New York City’s high density and real estate values.

The story won’t likely change soon. Gov. Andrew Cuomo cooperates with the building trade unions supporting the current scaffold law, and trial lawyers — who profit from the large settlements that the law’s opponents blame on the statute — have much lobbying power in Albany.

“Several pushes have been made to change the law’s standard to comparative liability, which the other 49 states use, but every effort has hit a wall in the Democrat-dominated state Assembly. Democrats this year took control of the state Senate as well,” Crain’s reported.

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