The New York State Thruway Authority and 14 labor groups have given the nod to a project labor agreement (PLA) for the Tappan Zee bridge replacement project, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office announced on June 18. The PLA, which is expected to save taxpayers about $452 million and provide thousands of construction jobs, will be a required provision of the RFP for the new bridge project. The agreement is subject to final approval from the Federal Highway Administration and the Thruway Authority board of directors.

Photo Courtesy of New York State Thruway Authority

The plan includes employment opportunities for union members in the Hudson Valley and New York Metropolitan region, and it acts as a mechanism to settle jurisdictional disputes through an organized grievance process. The plan also stipulates that lock-out or other work disruptions, including renegotiations of area collective bargaining agreements, is not permitted.

“For too long we have talked about replacing the Tappan Zee, and we cannot wait any longer,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Replacing the Tappan Zee Bridge represents one of the largest public infrastructure projects in the nation, and the agreement reached today will allow thousands of New York’s working men and women to secure good jobs building a new, safer bridge.”

Cuomo’s office says the key provisions of the plan include a standardized 40-hour, straight-time work week for all trades and the flexibility to schedule four 10-hour work days to optimize construction, for a combined estimated savings of $122,956,095 million; a higher ratio of apprentices to journeypersons than typically allowed in collective bargaining agreements, saving an estimated $59 million; providing workers that arrive one hour prior to their shift $25 a day rather than an hour of overtime, saving an estimated $59 million; standardized holidays that eliminate overtime for service trades, saving an approximate $2.6 million.

James Cahill, president of the state’s Building Construction Trades Council, in a statement called the agreement historic. “We have been talking about building a new Tappan Zee Bridge for decades; under Andrew Cuomo’s leadership, we are finally building a new bridge,” Cahill said.

Under the agreement, the Building Trades Council of Westchester and Putnam, the Rockland County Buildings Trades Council, the NYS Buildings Trades Council, and the Thruway Authority, as representative for the selected design-build contractor, are expected to sign a memorandum of understanding.

Transportation officials hope to select the design-build team this summer, Thomas Madison, Thruway Authority executive director, told attendees at a Moles lecture last month.

Meanwhile, the Thruway Authority intends to debt finance most of the cost of the project. On June 18, Moody’s Investor Service revised its outlook to negative from stable on the Thruway Authority’s A1 rating, due to an “as-yet uncertain finance plan for the new Tappan Zee bridge and risks associated with the execution and management of a design-build contract and the environmental permitting and financing requirements for this very large and complex construction project.” Moody’s says the project will require significant borrowing and entail contract management, environmental permitting, as well as financing and construction risk.

Moody’s says its assigned A1 rating reflects the Thruway Authority’s “strategic and vital transportation role” in the region and its “generally stable financial performance achieved through fairly steady toll increases and cost-containment efforts.”