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N.Y. Gov’s Road, Bridge Plan Raises Money Questions

Tue February 14, 2012 - Northeast Edition

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) The numbers are big: $15 billion overall for improving New York state’s infrastructure, including $5 billion-plus for a new Tappan Zee Bridge to be built alongside the existing span linking New York City’s northern suburbs.

The figures included in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $132.5 billion budget proposal are being cheered by New York’s heavy construction companies, the ones that build the state’s highways, bridges and other major infrastructure and employ tens of thousands of workers.

But some wonder where the funding will come from in a state that closed a $10 billion deficit in its last budget and has to eliminate a $2 billion gap in the spending plan released by Cuomo earlier in January. The governor hasn’t revealed exactly what will be done or and how much of it was scheduled to be done anyway by repackaging of existing aid to minimize new spending.

“We’re all very concerned on where the money is coming from,” said Jeff DiStefano, vice president and chief operating officer of Harrison and Burroes Bridge Constructors, a state contractor based in Glenmont, outside Albany.

Still, he referred to Cuomo’s transportation initiatives as “absolutely a breath of fresh air” for the construction industry.

Segments of the transportation portion of the governor’s spending plan will call for “design-build” contracts that would enable faster design and construction of infrastructure projects and reduce the cost of those projects.

“It allows us to get shovels in the ground and get construction going much, much quicker,” said Michael Elmendorf, president of the Albany-based Associated General Contractors of New York State, which represents some 1,000 firms that bid for public and private large-scale construction projects.

Another of Cuomo’s proposals: Allocate $1.3 billion in state funds to leverage billions in private-sector investments that would create thousands of jobs and bolster the state’s crumbling infrastructure, and another $1.1 billion in new funding for the New York Works program to accelerate capital investment in infrastructure projects.

“He’s obviously putting a huge emphasis on infrastructure,” Elmendorf said. “That’s very good news,”

The few construction projects outlined so far by Cuomo and his cabinet include $5.2 billion for a new span to replace the 57-year-old Tappan Zee Bridge linking Rockland and Westchester counties. His administration has yet to come up with a plan on how to fund that project.

Cuomo has released few other details on specific projects to be taken on this year, but during a legislative hearing Jan. 26 in Albany, Department of Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald told lawmakers that projects already in the state’s pipeline and that are viable for getting started this construction season are likely to get funded first.

The details for hundreds of other projects — bridge upgrades, road paving, state parks improvements — will be unveiled by his administration in the coming weeks and months, she said.

Until that happens, everyone from lawmakers to taxpayers will have to wait to see how individual projects will be funded, said an official with a government watchdog group.

“It’s hard to fit the number together right now and know where all this financing capacity is going to come from,” said Elizabeth Lynam, vice president of the Citizens Budget Commission. “It’s not as though everything out there is free. Somebody is going to have to pay for it somewhere along the line.”

Getting started on fixing the state’s aging infrastructure will benefit all New Yorkers, another construction executive said.

“It needs to get done sooner or later, and the longer we prolong the inevitable, the higher the bill keeps getting,” said Paul Posillico, senior vice president and chief financial officer of Farmingdale-based Posillico Inc., which contracts for highway, bridge and waste treatment projects in the New York City metropolitan region.

His company, which employs about 450 during the peak of the summer construction season, is like nearly every other in the industry: they need the work and they need it soon.

“The market is definitely very tough right now,” Posillico said. “We’re hopeful that everyone [in Albany] will see that this is an important investment for the future.”

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