By SHERRY HALBROOK
No one likes to think about what might happen if a bridge on a busy interstate collapsed, but the state has experienced a couple of near misses in the past eight months.
It’s a problem top officials at the state Transportation Department (DOT) have been reluctant to confront head on.
A new PEF study has found DOT could head off the trouble if it would stop wasting millions of tax dollars on costly contractors and hire more state inspectors to do the work.
“Not only is this agency callously disregarding its duty to get maximum value for the tax dollars it spends,” said PEF President Roger Benson, “it’s actually endangering the public’s safety by wasting money that should be used for more
Last July, a motorist crossing the Dunn Memorial Bridge from Rensselaer to Albany got the fright of her life when a section of the bridge suddenly dropped 19 inches. A DOT spokesperson stated the bridge had passed its inspection, but later investigation revealed that the inspection noted the bridge’s bearings needed replacement and had been rated at a near failure level for more than a decade.
That situation has prompted two Capital District lawmakers to question just how open and forthcoming DOT has been with the public. And the Times Union reported in December DOT “has refused to release three memos and parts of three other documents that could shed more light on whether the condition of the bearings raised concerns among inspectors or engineers, citing an exception in the state’s Freedom of Information Law.”
At the end of October another section of a state bridge suddenly settled, this time in Western New York. DOT played it down, announcing November 1 it was closing a lane of the I-290 westbound bridge to I-190 southbound in Erie County “to make improvements on bridge beams affected by minor corrosion,” which it said was identified “by bridge inspectors during the ongoing rehabilitation of I-290 ... and included localized settlement of the decks of the structure over three concrete piers.”
Three weeks later, a reporter who had obtained a copy of an internal e-mail that
asked, “Who was it that decided to lie to the public (about “the bridge)?” confronted a DOT spokesperson. She conceded the corrosion problem was actually serious, should not have been characterized as minor, and that a July inspection had found considerable deterioration of steel beams and concrete piers.
Slam a lid on state waste
Is your state agency wasting money on private consultants/contractors?
If it is, get the facts and share them with PEF. Contact the PEF Department of Civil Service Enforcement at
(518) 785-1900 or
(800) 342-4306, ext. 280.
So far, PEF and the NYS Fiscal Policy Institute have identified more than $500 million wasted annually by the state on “deals” with private contractors for work that could be done better and for substantially less by state employees.
Big pay gap
In November, PEF released a new study that shows DOT is wasting millions of taxpayer dollars on costly private contractors for state bridge inspections, further bolstering the union’s Go Public campaign demanding more accountability and transparency in state government.
“We analyzed six bridge-inspection contracts and found the average hourly rate charged by a private bridge inspector was more than 50 percent higher than the hourly cost of a state employee in a similar position,” PEF President Roger Benson said. “That includes the cost of a state employee’s benefits.”
The study revealed almost $11 million in labor costs alone have been wasted on bridge inspection contracts since 2002 — contracts that totaled $45 million.
PEF’s analyses of six bridge inspection contracts showed the average hourly rate for a private bridge inspector was $69.56, compared with $45.23 for an inspector in a similar position with the DOT, including the cost of employee benefits.
“This is exactly the cost comparison that could be done for all state agency contracts under the contract disclosure bill that the governor just vetoed,” Benson said. “There isn’t a business in New York state that would hire out work without knowing the hourly cost for the contracted service. New York’s taxpayers deserve the same accountability.”
Audits by two state comptrollers and a private audit conducted by KPMG at DOT’s request all have found the agency is wasting money by contracting out for engineering, design and inspection services. But the agency continues to do it.
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