A few weeks ago, when MTA Capital Construction President Michael Horodniceanu spoke at a New York Law School breakfast on the state of the MTA’s megaprojects, he let loose some interesting information on construction prices. During the Q-and-A session when I asked why construction in New York costs so much more than construction everywhere else, he said one thing: work rules. The MTA is required to overstaff projects so that the same TBM work, for instance, that can be done in Spain with 9 workers must be done in NYC with 25 workers. Thus, everything costs far too much.
Today, over at The Atlantic’s new-ish Cities blog, David Lepeska examines how $1 billion doesn’t go too far these days. Noting how projects in New York are orders of magnitude more expensive than similar efforts around the world, Lepeska wants to know why. To find out why, he spoke with Robert Paaswell of City College of New York, and the professor points to the age of our system and the general costs of regulation. The main culprits, he says, are “New York’s higher regulation costs, over-conservative labor laws and financing via bonds, which lead to longer-term debt plans.”
Paaswell also pondered on the length of time it takes to get work done. There, he blames neighborhood sensitivities. “There’s no urgency by governments or citizens here to get subways done, and when it finally happens the construction causes so much inconvenience that people don’t like it,” he said. “In Europe, they don’t care too much about it, they just blast right through and get it done.” It is a perfect storm of inefficient construction and a public that wants the results but fears the means.