For over eighty years, The Associated General Contractors of New York State, LLC (AGC NYS) has been the leading voice for the state’s building and heavy highway construction industry. And in a time of tight budgets for key infrastructure such as roads and bridges, the role of the association is more critical than ever.
“The biggest issue we will face this year is to establish parity between the road and bridge transportation system and the transit systems,” says Vice President of Transportation and Technical Services Karen Morrison. “The Metropolitan Transit Authority’s (MTA) capital program and the New York State’s Department of Transportation’s (DOT) capital program have historically been equivalent. Five years ago, that parity was broken, and this current budget proposal – which is a five-year proposal – also breaks it. Now we have more than $6 billion less for roads and bridges than the MTA has committed for their system.”
While the money allocated for bridges and road is “a good start,” Morrison says there is still a strong need for parity between the MTA and DOT. On January ninth of this year, Governor of New York State Andrew M. Cuomo announced an effort to revitalize infrastructure to stimulate the economy and modernize regional assets throughout Upstate New York.
Among the governor’s initiatives is a $200 million competition to upgrade seventy-four eligible airports. There are also planned renovations to turn the historic New York State Fairgrounds “into a premier, multi-use facility.” The fairgrounds have essentially remained unchanged for almost a century but would be transformed into a year-round facility which would host events and attract tourists to the area.
“Infrastructure is the foundation of our economy, and this year we are going to build and rebuild for the future,” said Governor Cuomo. “From investing in our airports to rebuilding the state fairgrounds, we are thinking big and making bold strides across Upstate New York. This is about stimulating the economy, creating jobs throughout the surrounding communities, and making Upstate New York stronger and more competitive than ever before, and I look forward to seeing the work continue in 2016.”
Among the initiatives, are his pledges to invest in job creation, freeze tolls on the NYS Thruway and cut tax rates, including the tax rate for small businesses from six percent to 4.5 percent. Governor Cuomo cited transportation as vital to commerce. To modernize New York’s aging infrastructure, he proposed that $20 billion be spent over five years in much-needed upgrades to the state’s roads under the NYSDOT capital program. The announcement came a few months after a pledge of $8 billion of State commitment toward the MTA’s $26.8 billion capital plan.
Another major project, the $3.9 billion replacement for the Tappan Zee Bridge, is set to open in 2018. The bridge, which was constructed in 1955, has been used as an example of America’s decaying infrastructure and sees at least 138,000 vehicles every day. It connects South Nyack in Rockland County to Tarrytown in Westchester County.
The Associated General Contractors of New York State membership has approximately 250 general contractors and construction managers as well as specialty contractors and hundreds of associate members in areas such as financial services, law, consulting, insurance and equipment and material supply.
The association works to improve business and market opportunities for its members and secure increased funding for capital construction projects at all three levels of government. As a construction industry advocate, the AGC NYS connects with personnel in a number of agencies and departments, including the DOT, the Thruway Authority, the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Department of Labor to address job site obstacles, late payment, specifications interpretation and other problems. Its specifications committee and a dozen subcommittees work on behalf of members on complications with DOT and Thruway regulations.
“Our members do it all,” states Morrison, who is in her ninth year with the AGC NYS. “We have heavy highway, civil, underground, buildings – everything. We’re the statewide association for the construction industry as a whole.”
The present-day Associated General Contractors of New York State LLC is the result of a 2009 merger between the General Building Contractors of New York State – representing the state’s leading general contractors and construction managers in the building industry – and the New York State Chapter, representing the leading contractors and specialty firms in the highway and transportation industry.
It recognizes that safe, up-to-date roads, highways and bridges are crucial to New York State’s economic growth and prosperity. The AGC NYS keeps its finger on the pulse of the construction industry and diligently reviews reports and studies prepared by other agencies, boards and commissions including The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). The ASCE represents over 150,000 members in civil engineering in 177 countries and issues ‘report cards’ on America’s infrastructure, state by state. Late last September saw the release of the inaugural 2015 Report Card for New York’s Infrastructure, and the results were not good.
The report revealed many of the nine categories of New York State’s infrastructure is in need of repair, particularly its roads and bridges. Receiving an overall grade of C-, the state also saw grades of D+ and D- from the ASCE’s New York State Council. While certain areas fared somewhat better – parks received a B- and aviation a C – the review underlined the urgent need to repair and replace the state’s roads and bridges since many of them are already operating over capacity.
“As one of the oldest cities in the country, New York (City) has aging infrastructure that serves a constantly growing population,” stated New York Report Card Committee Chair Bud Griffis. He notes that New York City is home to not only immediately recognizable and iconic landmarks such as the Brooklyn Bridge, but other infrastructure of equal importance. “The report card shows that our infrastructure is only as good as the weakest links and that we have a lot of areas that need improvement. Luckily, our governor and mayor have been implementing policies that will help address these needs and strengthen the economy.”
“Our highway infrastructure rated the lowest, and the highest grade we got was a B- for our parks and our solid waste, and everything else went down from there,” says Morrison of the report card. Part of the problem, she says, is that there is a dedicated highway and bridge trust fund in New York funded by gasoline taxes that has, over the years, started paying for other things, including the MTA. “So we had fifteen years of parity. Now we’ve had five years of broken parity and a looming five more years of broken parity, and they still get money out of the trust fund, which takes in $5 billion a year, of which we only see $2 billion for roads and bridges.”
AGC NYS Vice President of Building Services Joe Hogan echoes Morrison’s sentiments. He grew up in the industry; his father was a mason, and Joe went to school for labor relations before joining the organization.
“We always look at construction as a manufacturing process; the only difference is that every job is a prototype, and so a lot of the processes are the same,” says Hogan. AGC NYS is an advocate of ‘Lean Construction’ techniques and is continually investigating methods to help facilitate stronger Lean practices throughout New York.
“It is important for them in the long-term to be able to work in a Lean atmosphere, because we are hearing more and more from clients that if you are not working Lean, you’re not going to be working for them. And that is something that we think is going to grow. And we make sure to convince our members to be ahead of that curve and look for opportunities to make sure we’re serving and educating them well.”
AGC NYS keeps members up-to-date with green building codes and building information modeling (BIM), supports numerous training initiatives for its members and works very closely with the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). The organization brings in information from across the state and nationally, to ensure members are kept informed of industry developments and changes.
The requirements for becoming part of the organization are relatively simple, says Karen Morrison. Members must embody skill, integrity and responsibility.
The AGC NYS is promoted through a variety of means including membership meetings, special inserts in publications and by attending the Association of Bridge Constructors and Design and various architectural and Lean groups.
“Our faces are in a lot of different places,” comments Morrison, who expects to see the AGC NYS membership grow throughout 2016 as it continues to strengthen its relationship with contractors, work on legislative issues related to payment and procurement and advocate Lean Construction procedures.
“The future of the AGC is bright because there are so many issues we can advocate for our membership on,” she says. “I think that the harder it is to do business, the more the AGC can provide value because we understand the issues and can identify the root causes to act upon.”