A major multi-year repair project on a long section of Interstate-88 in Schoharie and Otsego counties is going forward despite the current economic crisis, but a local state assemblyman is raising questions.
The project will include reconstructing or repaving 31 miles of the interstate that runs through the northern Catskills between Schenectady and Binghamton, at an estimated cost of more than $42 million, 80 percent of which will be paid by the federal government.
The project has already been in planning for years, and major public infrastructure projects are exempt from the current coronavirus-related freeze on construction projects.
The work will take place between Exit 18 at Schenevus and Exit 20 at Richmondville, with paving being done on the lanes running in both directions over three construction seasons.
Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-Schoharie, last week called for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to lift a requirement that contractors bidding for the project must comply with a project labor agreement, which would require that even non-unionized construction companies bidding for the work follow union rules, and potentially hire union labor.
The agreements, often referred to as PLAs and are required on many state heavy construction projects, are controversial. Republicans typically object to such agreements, saying they limit the number of contractors who can bid, but supporters say they guarantee fair treatment for project workers. In practice, they have the practical benefit of guaranteeing labor peace during the construction period.
“At a time when the state is struggling financially, it makes no sense to burden such a necessary project with such a costly and legally-burdensome PLA requirement,” Tague said. “Our local contractors are hurting for work just as much as other working people in this state, and to put them on an unlevel playing field within the bidding process for a project in their own backyard which they could accomplish for less money is ridiculous.”
Lancaster Development, based just outside Cobleskill, is one of the major non-union heavy construction contractors in upstate New York.
The state Department of Transportation, which has developed and will be overseeing the project, defended the use of project labor agreements to get construction projects done efficiently.
“The PLAs can save time and money to the benefit of taxpayers and the traveling public,” said DOT spokesman Joseph Morrissey. “We concluded a PLA would benefit the project. The Federal Highway Administration reviewed the study an agreed with the findings.”
The work is scheduled to go out for bid as a single contract, with a bid opening expected in the first week of May. Morrissey said construction will start this summer, and is expected to run into the summer of 2023.
The work calls for replacement of one bridge and rehabilitation to four others, and resurfacing of 31.36 miles of pavement, mostly in the village and town of Richmondville in Schoharie County and the town of Worcester in Otsego County. About 9,600 vehicles per day travel that section of highway, according to DOT figures.