8 Street Redesigns DDC Is Taking Forever to Build
When it comes to construction dysfunction in NYC, the MTA and its high costs get most of the press — and justifiably so. But don’t sleep on the Department of Design and Construction, which oversees capital projects for city government. The agency is notorious for blowing one deadline after another.
Those delays have real consequences. For street construction, it means New Yorkers have to wait years longer than expected for improvements to make walking and biking safer. Surrounding businesses and residents have to endure open construction pits and staging areas for years on end.
While the implementation of long-term street improvements is worth some inconvenience, under DDC the process consistently drags on longer than it should, in some cases increasing political opposition to beneficial changes. And though the agency often has an explanation for why its projects take so long (usually something about utility work), DDC chiefs have not shown much initiative to figure out how to speed things up.
Former DDC Commissioner Feniosky Peña-Mora made no discernible headway on the problem before stepping down last summer. The de Blasio administration has not filled the position on a permanent basis in the seven months since, with Ana Barrio serving as acting commissioner.
In a statement, DDC spokesperson Crystal Santos acknowledged that the agency faces challenges with effective project delivery and said steps are being taken to prevent delays.
DDC recently created a “Front End Planning Unit” that “assesses field conditions and whether the scope of work aligns with the estimated budget,” Santos said. “In the future, we expect this will sharply reduce the number of projects in which added scope, change orders and field conditions could extend the length of a project.”
The proof will be in the implementation.
For the last three years, Streetsblog has tracked DDC street projects that fell far behind schedule. A year ago, our list included eight projects, only two of which have since finished construction.
Here’s a look at the status of the six other projects — plus two others that DDC is taking forever to build.
Roberto Clemente Plaza: Four years behind schedule
DDC broke ground five years ago with an initial 18-month timetable for completion. Construction was interrupted for years, making local merchants irate. Work finally got back underway in 2016, but the project is still unfinished.
Project timeline: DDC broke ground in 2013, originally planning to wrap up in 18 months. When we checked in last year, the projected completion date was “spring 2017.”
DDC says: “The contractor, Trocom, filed for bankruptcy and the bonding company stepped in to finance Trocom so they could complete the project. As of now, nearly all the work on the project is complete. The only remaining work is completing the installation of the fountain, and installing pavers around it. The work must be done during warmer weather so the project is expected to be completed this Spring.”
Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, West Street: Three years behind schedule
The West Street segment of the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway finally started to take form last year. The design was developed over a multi-year public process that ended in 2012 with an endorsement from Brooklyn CB 1. But the time from community board approval to construction was so long that, by 2015, people started to show up to CB 1 meetings trying to stop construction, unaware of the previous public process.
Project timeline: In 2012, Streetsblog reported that “construction could begin in 2014.” DDC now lists the project completion date as August 27 of this year.
DDC says: “Work could not begin on this project until gas and electrical utility lines were relocated. Construction is expected to be completed by the end of this summer.”
Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, Flushing Avenue: Three years behind schedule
Flushing Avenue is slated for a raised two-way bike path along the Brooklyn Navy Yard, an essential link in the future greenway. Brooklyn CB 2 voted for the plan in October 2013, but construction did not start until the middle of 2017.
Project timeline: Work was originally set to begin in fall 2014. Last year, DDC told Streetsblog that construction would begin in January 2017, but that ended up being pushed to August. DDC previously cited the projected completion date as June 4, 2017. As of today, it’s March 31, 2019.
DDC says: “The DDC Contractor had to wait 2 years for National Grid to relocate a gas main from Navy Street to Williamsburg Street. The DDC Contractor started construction in August of 2017.”
DUMBO/Vinegar Hill Street and Plaza Reconstruction: Five years behind schedule
This project will repair cobblestone streets, improve sewage systems, add flat stone strips for cycling, and expand the Pearl Street Triangle Plaza. Brooklyn CB 2 voted for it in mid-2013.
Project timeline: Construction was set to begin in fall 2014 and take two years. The projected completion date has been pushed forward on multiple occasions, and is now listed as September 15, 2021.
DDC says: “Construction is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2018 and complete within 5 years. The project includes reconstruction of the bike path. DDC is coordinating with the Dumbo BID and homeowners on sidewalk vault reconstruction work.”
Church Avenue Reconstruction: Four years behind schedule
In 2013, Church Avenue BID Director Lauren Collins said improvements along a busy stretch of Church Avenue between Coney Island Avenue and Flatbush Avenue would be built over the course of 2014. Construction finally got started last February.
Project timeline: Last year, DDC listed the projected completion date as June 14, 2017. In DDC’s online database, the project completion date is currently listed at January 30, 2018 (today), but the press office says that’s not going to happen.
DDC says: “Construction is expected to be completed this summer. There were unforeseen field conditions and utility interference that had to be addressed prior to the DDC Contractor beginning work.”
Pershing Square West: Four years behind schedule
The Bloomberg administration brought this Koch-era plaza concept for a block near Grand Central Terminal back to life, and it’s still not done as we begin Bill de Blasio’s second term.
Project timeline: In 2013, the Times reported that the project would be completed in 2014 “if all goes according to plan.” Construction didn’t get started until spring 2015. This time last year, DDC said the project would wrap up by May 31, 2017. It is still under construction today.
DDC says: “Construction is expected to be completed this Spring once the pavers in the plaza are installed which can only be done during warm and dry weather. The major water main work on the project is near completion. Electric and gas utilities had to be relocated for this project. The utility work required the complete shutdown of traffic in the construction zone while crews worked overnight before re-opening traffic by 5am.”
Bronx River Greenway, East 177th Street/Devoe Avenue: Four years behind schedule
This project will provide a key link in the Bronx River Greenway north of Starlight Park. DOT and DDC finalized the design in June of 2014.
Project timeline: In 2014, Streetsblog reported that the project “could begin” by the fall of 2015, with an 18-month construction timeline. In DDC’s defense, the city didn’t allocate funding for construction until early last year, but the project has yet to break ground and won’t get started this year either.
DDC says: “Construction is scheduled to begin in August of 2019 and take 2 years to complete.”
East Houston Street Reconstruction: Five years behind schedule
Last year, DDC told Streetsblog this project was “nearly complete,” so we included it on our list of completed DDC projects.
The joke was on us, apparently: In October, Bowery Boogie reported that the project had been delayed “indefinitely” due to underground utility issues.
Project timeline: The concept for this redesign was first floated 16 years ago. Construction began in 2010 and was initially set to finish in 2013. Work looked nearly-done at the end of 2016, but DDC now lists the completion date as January 15, 2018 (it’s still not done). “If your child was born when this project started, he/she would be thirteen by now,” the Bowery Boogie quipped.
DDC says: “Construction on this project is expected to be completed this Spring.”