8 Street Redesigns DDC Is Taking Forever to Build

DDC construction delays for projects like Robert Clemente Plaza in the Bronx can inflict a lot of pain on surrounding businesses. Photo: Steven Fish
DDC construction delays for projects like Robert Clemente Plaza in the Bronx can inflict a lot of pain on surrounding businesses. Photo: Steven Fish

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

New two-way bike lane markings at West Street and Kent Street in Greenpoint. Photos: David Meyer
New bike lane markings last year on West Street by Kent Street in Greenpoint. Photo: David Meyer

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

Image: NYC DOT/DDC/Parsons
Image: NYC DOT/DDC/Parsons

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 timelineConstruction 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

Project rendering of the future Pershing Square West pedestrian plaza. Image: Quennell Rothschild/NYC DDC
Project rendering of the future Pershing Square West pedestrian plaza. Image: Quennell Rothschild/NYC DDC

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

The project will fill in a missing link in the Bronx River Greenway between Starlight Park and Bronx River Park, while creating safer crossings at three complex intersections.
The project will fill in a missing link in the Bronx River Greenway between Starlight Park and Bronx River Park, while creating safer crossings at three complex intersections.

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

Expanded medians at East Houston Street and First Avenue. Photo: David Meyer
Expanded medians at East Houston Street and First Avenue. Photo: David Meyer

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.”

  • Orcutt

    The West St project is only half-built. No sign that they’re starting on the northern half

  • Wow, how embarrassing.

    How on earth are the same utility issues unforeseen every time? Who the hell is doing the seeing?

  • J

    The crazy thing is that this is not news. In 2006, I remember the Frederick Douglas Circle project had a sign saying it would open in 2007. It didn’t break ground for years after that completion date, and it took 3 or 4 years to complete once work actually started.

  • Casey O’Neill

    Does anyone know where I can find the plans for the Church Street Reconstruction?

  • Bluewndrpwrmlk96
  • Lizoo

    “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.”

    Were they seriously NOT ALREADY DOING THIS?

  • MasonEagle

    It’s almost as if the government is inherently inefficient and unreliable. Color me totally stunned.

  • Brad Sutton

    The block of 2nd Street between Borden and 54th Ave in LIC was rebuilt and repaved months ago with a protected 2 way bike lane, but huge concrete barriers are blocking the bike lane, which hasn’t been striped. The car lanes haven’t been striped either but they are open for business.

    The project is 99% done but 0% usable because why???

  • eastphilliamsburg

    The parts of the West St lane that are finished are a de-facto parking and loading lane, encouraged by a terrible execution that provides no physical protection. The fact that the project is unfinished has also given the 94th Precinct the excuse not to enforce at all. All this on what is supposed to be a flagship “greenway” for the city…

  • Give me a shovel

    http://diversityagenda.com/ddcworkshops/ Here lies the problem @ DDC high turnover, Ms. Austin has no previous experience working in construction or govt. Shavone Williams the previous communications person who kept telling everyone in press releases that the build it back program was building back homes…oh oh not so. Now, Ms. Williams is the communications person for EDC. The failure also lies with the Mayor and his aids when a commissioner of a large public works agency has not filled in months.

  • Bernard Finucane

    This reminds of Eastern Europe back in the Soviet days. You’d go by construction sites with stacks of decaying construction materials, and piles of dirt where last year’s weeds have gone to seed.

  • neroden

    Underground buried utilities are garbage. I think it’s about time to outlaw them. Require the utility companies to build tunnels and put the utilities in the tunnels, so that the streets *never* have to be dug up to deal with the utilties.

    Nationalizing the utility companies would also help. The private utility companies are notorious for not bothering to do utility relocation when they’re supposed to. Nationwide.

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