By Andrew Tangel and Mike Vilensky 

A proposal by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to tighten oversight of major transportation and construction projects is raising questions among critics who fear it will be a costly addition to the bureaucratic process.

The administration's recently released budget documents contain the little-noted proposal to create an agency that could oversee public construction projects worth more than $50 million.

The entity, the New York State Design and Construction Corp., would be a subsidiary of the state Dormitory Authority, an agency better known for financing university and health-care buildings.

The goal, according to Mr. Cuomo's budget documents, is to "provide additional project management expertise and oversight on significant public works projects" as a way to "optimize efficiency, cost and quality."

The construction entity would be overseen by a board of three members designated by the governor.

That has fueled worries that Mr. Cuomo is seeking to assert more control over independent public agencies such as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, whose 21-member board also includes representatives of New York City and counties served by the MTA's transit network.

Word of the proposal has puzzled and concerned a number of people in the construction companies, consulting firms and government agencies involved with major projects such as the Javits Center, Second Avenue Subway or Tappan Zee Bridge, according to industry insiders.

"We should fix the infrastructure bureaucracies we already have, rather than create new ones," said Nicole Gelinas, a senior fellow at the think tank the Manhattan Institute. "Cuomo already has ample oversight over the MTA...If he thinks it performs poorly on megaprojects, he should fix it."

A spokeswoman for the governor said the new system is intended to streamline projects.

"The state is committed to ensuring that all complex and large infrastructure projects are delivered on time, on budget and that the use of public taxpayer dollars is maximized," she said, adding that "this new process will provide the uniformity, consistency, and coordination to meet this goal."

The plan has drawn early criticism in Albany from some legislators.

"This is a power grab by Gov. Cuomo, who seems to be obsessed with concentrating political power in his office," said Assemblyman Bill Nojay, an upstate Republican who sits on his chamber's transportation committee. "For people responsible for infrastructure, the feeling is it would be a debacle."

"There should be less agencies, not more," said Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., a New York City Democrat. "Why does he keep creating new agencies? It's a waste of money."

Members of the majority conferences said the new agency hasn't been formally discussed within their conferences. Representatives for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, and Senate President John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, didn't respond to requests for comment.

Building big projects has become central focus for Mr. Cuomo, who spent much of January announcing projects as part of an agenda totaling $100 billion.

As he has staked much of his legacy on infrastructure projects, Mr. Cuomo has become known for his keen interest in the details of major transportation endeavors including La Guardia Airport's transformation and a Tappan Zee Bridge replacement.

Mr. Cuomo has also taken on the state's public agencies, whose procurement practices and project-oversight are sometimes criticized as wasteful.

"We've come to a point where we are so bureaucratized where we suffocate in our own red tape," Mr. Cuomo said at a January event touting plans to improve the New York City subway. "Our own bureaucracies strangle us."

It wasn't clear what projects Mr. Cuomo's planned construction entity might take aim at. Industry insiders who have been following the plan said the governor's proposal raised policy, financial and practical questions.

Few details were known about the Design and Construction Corp. would work. It wasn't clear whether it would apply for federal funding--or how a subsidiary of the Dormitory Authority's application for grants and loans might be received in Washington.

Nor was it clear how agencies such as the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, a bistate that Mr. Cuomo jointly controls with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, might be affected, if at all.

The Citizens Budget Commission plans to send a letter to the state legislature urging lawmakers to reject the governor's proposal, said Carol Kellermann, the Manhattan-based civic group's president.

"To say that this group--a new body within a body--can actually review and reject contracts made by places like the MTA is duplicative, and substitutes the policy-making judgment of this group...for the boards of public authorities," she said.

Others say the governor's interest can help. "He has no patience--that can be a virtue in this industry," said an insider who is familiar with La Guardia and other major projects under way.


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

February 19, 2016 20:38 ET (01:38 GMT)

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