Cuomo Bridge contractors appeal to Gov. Hochul for help resolving $1B contract dispute

Thomas C. Zambito
Rockland/Westchester Journal News
  • A dispute over $1 billion in extra costs to build the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge threatens to increase bridge tolls in the coming years.
  • Tappan Zee Constructors accuses the Thruway Authority of demanding upgrades to the bridge plan but refusing to pay for extras.

Tappan Zee Constructors has – for now – dropped a lawsuit accusing the state Thruway Authority of refusing to pay nearly $1 billion in extra costs spent building the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge at a “breakneck pace” imposed by the Thruway.

And the bridge-building consortium has appealed to Gov. Kathy Hochul, asking her to resolve a dispute it blames on promises broken by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Thruway Authority.

But the two sides are no closer to resolving their differences. In fact, they remain about $900 million apart.

The main span towers for the New New York Bridge and the Tappan Zee Bridge as seen from South Boulevard in Rockland, Nov. 4, 2016. According to the New New York Bridge Project website, all four of the westbound main span towers have reached their ultimate height, 419 feet above the Hudson River. Tappan Zee Constructors, LLC (TZC) is removing the final westbound jump form and continuing operations on the eastbound towers.

“In their collective 400 years of operation, our member companies have never experienced this level of disregard from a project client,” Sam Choy, TZC’s project manager wrote in a September letter to Hochul.

Choy asked for a meeting with Hochul, adding a pointed reference to Cuomo, whose promise to overcome decades of false starts and build a bridge that would be named for his late father is among the signature achievements of his time as governor.

 Hochul's office did not respond to a request for comment.

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“We know that you are eager to move past the many complex and unfortunate inherited issues left by your predecessor and start a new chapter, and we are ready to move on too,” Choy added. Politico was first to report about the letter last month.

The plea to Hochul comes as documents recently obtained by The USA Today Network through a Freedom of Information Law request unveils the acrimony TZC harbored for its state partners while undertaking the biggest infrastructure project in New York in decades.

During a dispute over the cost of moving sediment dredged from under the bridge, TZC accused the Thruway Authority of "a scheme" to cheat the consortium out of money it was due. And, TZC claims, the Thruway Authority urged the contractors to wait until the project was complete to air their claims so the dispute would not become public.

The fight centers on what TZC has cast as the Thruway Authority’s excessive meddling in the project after agreeing to a design-build plan that was supposed to lock in costs and prevent overruns.  It was the first time the state used such a process.

But TZC says the Thruway Authority repeatedly forced changes beyond what was agreed to in the contract and then refused to pay for the extras. And TZC says the Thruway Authority refused to give time extensions when two icy winters delayed the pace of work during the five-year project.

A Tappan Zee Constructors work boat passes in front of the remnants of the Tappan Zee Bridge, as it sits in the Hudson River, Jan. 16, 2019. The eastern part of the bridge was demolished in a controlled detonation the day before.

Won't work in NY anymore

TZC was selected to build the bridge in 2012. The consortium includes some of the most recognized names in the bridge building trade - Fluor Enterprises, Inc., Granite Construction Northeast, Inc., Traylor Bros., Inc. and American Bridge Company.

Fluor and American Bridge worked on the east span of the San Francisico-Oakland Bay Bridge, which opened in 2013.

They say the state’s response to their claim has “reduced the likelihood” that they and their member companies will work in New York until the matter is resolved.

In June, TZC withdrew a lawsuit filed in the New York State Court of Claims, after the state agreed to participate in a dispute resolution process overseen by the Thruway Authority.

But in July, the Thruway’s project director, Jamey Barbas, dismissed most of TZC’s claims, saying the consortium was due just $28 million out of the $960 million it’s seeking.

The outcome could have implications for Thruway drivers, who pay for the Thruway’s budget with tolls.

Tolls increased slightly this year from $4.75 to $5.25 for New York-based E-ZPass users and will go bump up to $5.75 next year.

In March, The Journal News and Lohud revealed how the cost of the bridge’s 3.1-mile bike and walking path and belvederes that offer sweeping views of the Hudson River climbed from $2.45 million to $64 million after the Thruway Authority asked for changes.

Early plans envisioned belvederes made of steel with mesh safety netting. Instead, the final design included plate glass three-inches thick and nine feet tall that can withstand a ballistic missile attack. Barbas said the upgrades were necessary to prevent people from climbing over the side and harming themselves.

Examples of cost increases detailed

The documents recently released provide new details about a disagreement over the removal of sediment dredged from access channels under the bridge, a dispute that led the Thruway Authority to acknowledge some $28 million in TZC claims.

Initial plans called for some 1.8 million cubic yards of sediment to be delivered to a Historic Area Remediation Site controlled by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers some 3.5 miles east of near Sandy Hook, New Jersey.

It was later determined that just 800,000 cubic yards would be removed. The Thruway Authority said limiting the amount of dredging would help protect two endangered species of sturgeon that live in the Hudson.

The cables are comprised of several metal strands packed into a protective sheath.

Bringing the sediment to Sandy Hook, instead of another site, would result in a cost savings of $40 million that was to be split between TZC and the Thruway Authority, TZC attorneys say.

TZC would then be able to divert the savings toward the cost of the belvedere upgrades, a $10 million community fund and pile testing, TZC lawyers say.

But the plan to bring the sediment to Sandy Hook was abandoned after the Thruway determined it could not be tested and delivered during 2013, the documents say.

And TZC claimed the Thruway Authority still wanted the consortium to pay for the belvedere upgrades and the other items.

“In retrospect, however, NYSTA’s proposed ‘plan’ certainly appears to have been nothing more than a scheme to mislead TZC and avoid justly paying TZC for extra work NYSTA was ultimately requiring TZC to perform,” TZC’s lawyers write.

TZC’s lawyers also say they relied on the Thruway Authority’s promise that their bills would be paid, agreeing not to file cost claims until the project was completed so the dispute would not become public.

“All along, representatives of NYSTA and the Governor’s Office represented to TZC that it would be treated fairly if the project was completed within the dates demanded by NYSTA and the Governor, and asked TZC to avoid submitting cost claims that could be subject to a public records access request,” TZC lawyers write.  “TZC abided by NYSTA's direction, and has accelerated work on the job while keeping records of the costs to do so.”