There is more to the recent approval of $1.8 billion contract awarded to the joint venture 3rd Track Constructors made up of Dragados USA Inc/. John P. Picone Inc., Halmar International LLC and CCA Civil Inc. for construction, Stantec for design, Cameron Engineering for engineering and Rubenstein Associates for community outreach to support final design, engineering and construction of the Long Island Rail Road Main Line Third Track.
A second contract for $99.9 million was awarded to Arup-Jacobs Joint Venture to assist the LIRR in providing Project Management.
These funds totaling $1.95 billion were part of a $3 billion MTA 2015 – 2019 Five Year Capital Program Amendment, which increased the total budget from $29 to $32 billion. It is paid for by adding $1.6 billion in MTA long term debt.
Over the past 30 years, estimates for construction of the Main Line Third Track have grown from $600 million to $1.5 billion two years ago, $2 billion last year and now $2.6 billion today.
There is only $1.95 billion available under the MTA $32 billion 2015 – 2019 Five Year Capital Plan. What is the justification for this most recent $600 million project cost increase in less than one year?
If $356 million of the additional $600 million are anticipated to come from the next MTA 2020 – 2024 Five Year Capital Plan, what is the source for $244 million balance of the additional $600 million needed to fully fund the project?
The final cost could be even higher when completed by the end of 2022 or later. Who will pay for any potential construction contract change orders and other additional unforeseen expenses?
What are the components which make up the $2.6 billion budget?
When will we see a real detailed project budget that would include the estimated costs for each project component?
This would include but not be limited to design and engineering, overall construction, private property easements, utility relocation, commuter parking, platform and station improvements, track, signal and power work, sound barriers, construction for each of seven grade crossing eliminations, construction management firms to supplement LIRR Engineers in oversight of Third Track Contractors schedule, budget, staff and work, LIRR force account (LIRR track employees who provide protection for construction contractors employees working on active track right of ways), LIRR budget and financial staff, LIRR quality assurance and quality control staff (to insure that Third Track contractors adheres to the contract specifications and requirements), substitute bus service during frequent track outages, funding reserve to pay for change orders due to unforeseen site conditions or changes in scope requested by various LIRR user groups, local villages, community groups or other issues during construction) and contingency for unforeseen costs.
This just highlights a few of the major project cost components. When will the MTA/LIRR share this information with commuters, residents, taxpayers, transit advocates, elected officials and the media to build credibility for this project?
Gov. Cuomo previously admitted that by reducing the amount of private property acquisition, virtually all construction will take place along the existing right-of-way.
He went on to say that this will result in increasing construction costs. This has now proven to be true as the project cost continues to grow. Cuomo has committed that 100 percent of work would be performed on the existing right-of-way.
When you combine this with elimination of seven grade crossing, clearly overall project costs are only going to increase even more. This is an incredibly complex project to perform 100 percent of the work within two active tracks.
There are 194 weekday and 152 weekend trains serving riders on the Huntington/Port Jefferson, Oyster Bay, Ronkonkoma and Babylon to Speonk branches. This does not include additional LIRR work trains, freight trains and movements of non-revenue passenger trains not in service.
All of the work will be performed within the existing LIRR right of way. Besides relocating two existing tracks on portions of the Main Line to make room for construction a new third track, you have to deal with noise abatement and sound barriers, new platforms, stations and commuter parking, along with additional safety improvements at grade crossings including elevating or sinking tracks at seven grade crossings.
Don’t forget LIRR force account support to provide flagging protection. This is necessary to afford Third Track contractors employees who perform construction, safe access within an active right of way corridor.
Imagine how many times per hour they will have to stop work when a train passes by? Don’t be surprised when you learn that a significant portion of construction work ends up taking place evenings, overnight and on weekends when there is less activity on the Main Line.
Each grade crossing elimination may require numerous weekend track outages resulting in full suspension of Main Line service. There may be a need for 24/7 shuttle bus service between Jamaica and Mineola or Hicksville.
Costs for substitute bus service could easily run into the millions over the project construction duration.
Based on past experiences and history with other major projects such as LIRR East Side Access to Grand Central Terminal, don’t count on Main Line Third Track being completed by December 2022 as promised by the MTA LIRR.
At the end of the day, it may take several months to a year or two more before riders can board and find out the final cost for Main Line Third Track.
(Larry Penner is a transportation historian and advocate who previously worked in 31 years for the US Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office.)