Category Archives: Infrastructure

Missouri lawmakers send ban on project labor agreements to Greitens

Source: Celeste Bott, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 27, 2017

Missouri’s cities and counties could lose state funding if they force nonunion contractors to pay workers union wages for public projects, under a measure now headed to Gov. Eric Greitens’ desk.  Current law allows both union and nonunion contractors to bid on public construction projects. But under a project labor agreement, local governments can require nonunion contractors to pay union wages, something Missouri Republicans call an unfair practice that discourages competition.  The legislation also would ban local governments from giving preferential treatment to union contractors. Governments that violate those provisions would lose state funding and tax credits for two years.  Greitens, a Republican, has listed the elimination of the agreements, or PLAs, among his labor reform priorities, which he says will persuade more businesses to set up shop in Missouri. …

California bill would blacklist contractors involved in U.S.-Mexico border wall project

Source: Katy Murphy, San Jose Mercury News, April 25, 2017

Contractors would have to choose between building a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico and doing business with California under a legislative proposal that advanced in the Senate Tuesday.  As California continues to fight the Trump administration’s agenda, Senate Bill 30 by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, would blacklist companies who help to build the controversial border wall that President Donald Trump has promised to build — a project estimated to cost more than $20 billion, funding the president has yet to secure. …

Gov. Scott Walker signs laws on unions, cannabis oil

Source: Jason Stein, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, April 17, 2017
 
Contractors won’t have to work with unions on taxpayer-funded building projects and parents will have an easier time getting an anti-seizure drug derived from marijuana, under legislation Gov. Scott Walker signed Monday.  The measure on labor agreements, which passed the Legislature on party-line votes, is the latest in a series of moves to roll back union power by Republican lawmakers in recent years. Walker signed the law at Amerilux International, a De Pere distributor of construction materials. …

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Walker to Sign Bill on Local Governments’ Labor Agreements
Source: Associated Press, April 14, 2017
 
Gov. Scott Walker will sign a bill Monday that blocks local governments from requiring collective bargaining agreements on public projects. … The Republican-controlled Legislature easily passed the legislation this session despite opposition from Democrats, who called it another attack on unions. …

Nearly Half of Construction Firms Hired by Maryland Department of General Services Committed OSHA Violations in the Past 10 Years

Source: Public Citizen, March 14, 2017

Nearly half of the major construction contracts awarded by the state of Maryland’s Department of General Services (DGS) have gone to companies that were cited for worker safety violations, according to a study issued today by Public Citizen. The study examines Maryland DGS-awarded contracts over the past five years, while simultaneously examining available contractor safety and health incident reports over a 10-year period from the U.S. Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) online database. Over the past five years, 46 percent of firms that have been awarded major construction contracts worth $100,000 or more by the Maryland DGS have been cited for worker safety violations by OSHA. Moreover, 35 percent of all DGS-approved vendors have been cited by OSHA for “serious” violations, meaning that OSHA found a hazard that “could cause an accident or illness that would most likely result in death or serious physical harm.” Three of the firms receiving OSHA violations were cited for violations in association with fatalities that occurred on their work sites. Two contractors have had employees die – in Maryland and West Virginia – after being crushed by improperly placed barriers. An employee of a third contractor in Maryland was struck and killed by a car. … The violations in the analysis occurred throughout all of the contractors’ work over the past 10 years, both public and private. Contractors that have been cited have received nearly $146 million in contracts from DGS alone. They have received $370,297 in OSHA fines over the past decade. …

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The Perils of P3s

Source: Gabrielle Gurley, American Prospect, March 24, 2017

The next big thing in American infrastructure investment is public-private partnerships. Although private companies have long played a key role in designing and constructing public projects, federal and state officials increasingly view the private sector as the dollars-and-cents answer to digging out of the rubble of failing highways, bridges, and transit. Both President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan tout them as one way to reduce the use of public monies in their as-yet-to-be-detailed infrastructure dreamscapes. Public-private partnerships may indeed provide the dollars that fearful politicians are unable to pry from the pockets of their tax-averse constituents. But P3s, as they are known in the infrastructure sector, are more complex than they appear to people who just want to get where they’re going. In a new Economic Policy Institute report, “No Free Bridge,” researcher Hunter Blair shows just why these partnerships are far from a “eureka” moment for America’s infrastructure woes. … P3s do not end up saving taxpayers money, especially when policymakers obscure the true costs and the risks. Those costs often end up being imposed on future taxpayers and rate-payers, while the gains go to the private partner.

… Under a P3…the private company gets a percentage of a revenue stream, such as a toll or payments based on performance incentives, such as keeping a road well-maintained. According to the EPI report, private-sector officials can suss out underperforming revenue streams before their public-sector counterparts and often renegotiate contracts: 40 percent of public-private partnership have undergone renegotiation after the contract is signed. (Sometimes, these missteps are more than just bureaucratic blunders. The politicians behind them are often close allies or financial beneficiaries of a project’s private promoters.) The United States is a relative newcomer to this brand of public-private partnership, which means that many state and local transportation officials, political leaders, and community groups don’t understand or seriously underestimate the policy challenges or the serious financial and political consequences of a P3 gone bad. … Blair says that the federal government should take the lead in amassing the expertise for structuring public-private partnership contracts that would help both the federal government and state and local governments. … But a small office providing advice on public-private partnerships and finance programs is likely not a priority, even for a president who made a pledge to invest $1 trillion in infrastructure and bring P3s into the finance mix: President Trump cut the Transportation Department budget by 13 percent and a detailed infrastructure plan is no closer to seeing the light of day. …

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Labor agreements impede shared services, cities say

Source: Rob Ryser, News Times, March 23, 2017
 
… The inability of willing neighbors to share services when it makes sense for both sides is part of what keeps local governments from finding more efficiencies, Boughton said, and one reason he was in the state capital this week. Boughton spoke in favor of legislation that would waive certain restrictions in municipal labor contracts when towns and cities make agreements to share services. … The bill, which was extracted from a larger report containing recommendations by the statewide Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, was the subject of public hearings this week in the state legislature’s Planning and Development Committee. … In Danbury, Boughton and the City Council have been exploring partnerships with neighboring Putnam County – a six-town region of 100,000 people across the border in New York, and with Waterbury, the state’s fifth-largest city. Neither partnership needs the legislation pending in Hartford to proceed. The agreement with Putnam County involves a potential deal to provide city sewer service to a Brewster-area commercial zone, and the potential to capitalize on mutual economic interests such as infrastructure projects, recreation initiatives and cultural events. The proposed partnership with Waterbury aims to build an economic development zone along the Interstate 84 corridor, anchored by the two cities. …

Lawmakers request info on NCDOT outsourcing after WBTV investigation

Source: Nick Ochsner, WBTV, March 9, 2017

State lawmakers have requested information from the North Carolina Department of Transportation on the comparative cost to hire private contractors versus using state employees for design and engineering services. The request comes just weeks after a WBTV investigation exposed questions about the increased use of private contractors at NCDOT. Rep. Frank Iler (R-Brunswick) made the request during a meeting of the Joint Committee on Transportation Appropriations in the House of Representatives held Tuesday morning. … In response to the question from Iler, NCDOT Chief Engineer Mike Holder said the department was working on trying to quantify the cost of using state personnel versus outside contractors. … Holder told lawmakers NCDOT has agreed to pay a consulting company to study how much money NCDOT pays in overhead costs for its employees. The focus on overhead comes after WBTV’s investigation published line-item cost estimates from private consulting firms that showed the state was paying between 140% and 200% overhead, in addition to the cost of man-hours and other actual expenses. …

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Senator steers millions in NCDOT contracts while taking campaign cash
Source: Nick Ochsner, WBTV, February 20, 2017

A powerful state lawmaker has pushed to increase the outsourcing of services within the North Carolina Department of Transportation while collecting campaign contributions from private firms that do business with the state agency. NCDOT has increasingly been required to rely on private firms for engineering and design services since 2011. Since then lawmakers have required NCDOT to shed hundreds of workers and pay hundreds-of-millions of dollars to private firms instead. Ten of the largest engineering firms collectively billed taxpayers more than $111 million for services in 2016 alone. That sum does not include dozens of other private companies who were also awarded contracts. Internal documents obtained by WBTV Investigates show the private firms being hired by NCDOT are building in inflated overhead costs and a built-in profit margin into their bottom line. But some lawmakers continue to advocate for the outsourcing of more state highway jobs as a way to save money and build state roads more efficiently.

State Senator Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick) said it was a pretty easy decision to start outsourcing some services at NCDOT when he and other Republicans took the majority in the state legislature in 2011. … But a review of cost estimates for projects completed by private engineering firms suggests taxpayers may be paying a premium for outsourced services. WBTV Investigates obtained detailed cost estimates for several projects submitted to NCDOT by private firms. … It is not clear if projects completed by private firms—with a built-in profit margin and line items for overhead at up to twice the cost of labor—are more efficient than projects completed by state employees who work for NCDOT. … Campaign finance records show Rabon has collected campaign money from employees of private engineering firms and other companies involved in building roads and bridges, their political action committees and industry-related special interest groups. Records show Rabon’s campaign has taken more than $124,000 since 2012, the first year in which NCDOT was required to hit a specific outsourcing target. It is impossible to know for sure, though, exactly how much campaign money Rabon took from individuals connected to private engineering firms because occupation and employer information is incomplete for a large number of donors. … In his interview with WBTV Investigates, Rabon said he did not keep track of who donated to his campaign and insisted his push to privatize NCDOT services was not connected in any way to contributions made to his campaign. … Legislative records show Rabon continued to advocate for aggressive outsourcing at NCDOT during the 2015 and 2016 budget discussions. …

Private financing wrong direction for Canadian infrastructure bank

Source: CUPE, March 20, 2017

A new report written by CUPE economist Toby Sanger warns that private financing of the proposed Canada Infrastructure Bank could double the cost of infrastructure projects, and shows how the bank can instead provide low-cost, public financing for much-needed projects. The study was published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in advance of the federal budget, where more details of the proposed bank are expected to be unveiled. Sanger outlines the dramatic shift from Liberal election promises of a bank with low-cost financing to the current plan, which focuses on higher-priced private borrowing. The shift will increase pressure to privatize key infrastructure, and will mean less public funding is available to deliver public services and infrastructure. … The study outlines how the federal government could establish a Canadian infrastructure bank that works in the public interest by providing low-cost financing for public infrastructure.

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Haverhill contractor settles allegations of overbilling MBTA, prevailing wage violations

Source: Eagle-Tribune, February 25, 2017
 
A New Hampshire-based general contractor with ties to Haverhill and one of its subcontractors have agreed to pay more than $420,000 for submitting false and inflated payment requests in connection with their construction of the Assembly Square Station on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s (MBTA) Orange Line in Somerville, Attorney General Maura Healey announced Friday.  S&R Construction Enterprises, its president Stephen Early of Haverhill, subcontractor A&S Electrical and its manager Gregory Lane agreed to resolve allegations they violated the Massachusetts False Claims Act by knowingly submitting false and inflated pay estimates to improperly front load payments under their contracts. In addition, S&R Construction, based in Newton, New Hampshire, and A&S Electrical are barred from bidding on and accepting new public contracts in Massachusetts for five years and one year, respectively. …

Contractor pays OSHA fine for Liberty Bridge fire without appeal

Source: Ed Blazina, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 4, 2017

Joseph B. Fay Co. of West Deer, the contractor refurbishing the Liberty Bridge, has paid a federal fine for safety violations that led to September’s construction fire that closed the bridge for more than three weeks. Christopher Robinson, director of the Pittsburgh office of the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration, said Thursday that Fay paid the $11,224 fine after a meeting with the agency. … The firm could have appealed the fine, which was issued for what the agency called a “serious” mistake of not properly protecting flammable material during a steel-cutting operation. As part of the $80 million project, an employee was cutting steel on the deck of the bridge Sept. 2 when hot slag fell onto a work platform below, igniting plastic ventilation pipe that was stored there. The fire burned so hot that it buckled a 30-foot support chord in a key area. As a result of concern the structure could collapse, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation closed the bridge for 24 days for emergency repairs. … Fay is paying directly for the cost of the permanent repair. The estimated $500,000 cost of the emergency repair, which involved consultants from 16 different universities and companies across the country, will be deducted from Fay’s final payment as part of liquidated damages for the fire and bridge closure. The company has challenged PennDOT’s additional assessment of $3,033,200 in liquidated damages for the time the bridge and a ramp to it were closed. Mr. Cessna said there has been no resolution yet. …