The mandate follows a four-hour ordeal that began March 19 to free 51-year-old Joseph Barrone, an E.E. Cruz worker who got stuck at the excavation site in quicksand-like mud. Barrone was immediately taken to Weill Cornell Medical Center and released on March 22, a hospital spokeswoman says. E.E. Cruz and Tully Construction are the joint venture general contractors at the station, part of the $4.51-billion SAS project.

The investigation into the incident is ongoing, MTA says.

New York

Comptroller: Public Authority Debt Nears $250B

New York state and local public authorities rang up nearly $250 billion in debt in the latest fiscal year and operate "in the shadows with too little accountability to the public," says Thomas DiNapoli, New York state comptroller. The state relies too heavily on these entities to plug budget gaps and borrow on its behalf, DiNapoli said in a report last month.

The state has 1,169 authorities, including the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York, the Empire State Development Corp., the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and the Thruway Authority. But their spending and other activities, including personal service expenditures, are not subject to the same independent review, oversight and reporting requirements as state agencies, DiNapoli says. He adds that his audits have revealed numerous examples of deficient contracting practices, poor expenditure controls and inadequate oversight.

In a separate report also released last month, DiNapoli said the MTA is $4.4 billion over budget and 10 years behind schedule on the East Side Access (ESA) project. Taxpayers will be left to bear the brunt of the unanticipated costs of the project, which is only half finished, he said.

MTA had no comment on either report.

The current cost estimate for an August 2019 completion of the ESA project is $8.76 billion, including additional rail car costs. But the project was initially expected to cost $4.3 billion and to begin service in 2009.

"Time and again, the MTA has come up short on the goal to deliver the East Side Access project on schedule and within budget," DiNapoli said. He added that MTA has acknowledged that its initial estimates and schedules submitted in 1999 were based on conceptual plans with "virtually no engineering work behind them."

Cost run-ups include building the new LIRR terminal below Grand Central Terminal, which accounts for more than one-quarter of the cost overrun, the report says. The initial estimate for the terminal was $709 million, but it is now $1.9 billion, up 170%. Building the Queens segment, which mostly involves tunneling, has soared to $1.4 billion from $695 million. Also, track, signal and power and communication systems contract costs have nearly tripled, to $901 million from $331 million.

MTA's share of the cost has climbed 150% to $5.6 billion from less than $2.2 billion, the report says. The federal government's payment is capped at $2.7 billion, and New York state is contributing $450 million.

New York

State Mulls 2-Year Fracking Moratorium

The New York State Assembly has adopted a resolution to suspend state permits for natural gas hydraulic fracturing for two years to give lawmakers time to review health and safety data. The bill, Assembly 5424-A, would suspend such permits until May 15, 2015, and does not apply to drilling of conventional vertical natural gas wells outside the Marcellus and Utica formations.

Under the bill, a State University of New York public health school is required to conduct a health impact assessment. It would aim to identify risks associated with the process, also known as "fracking," and devise a long-term plan for monitoring, evaluating, tracking and mitigating potential health impacts.

The Assembly's move follows word from Dept. of Environmental Conservation that it is awaiting completion of a public health impact review before it takes action.

Many towns statewide have banned fracking or put moratoriums in place, and some local zoning laws are now being challenged. Recently, a Supreme Court justice in Livingston County upheld the Town of Avon's ban. Interested parties on both sides of the fracking debate are also awaiting a decision before the state Supreme Court's appellate division on whether the towns of Dryden and Middlefield have the right to prohibit fracking. The court is expected to make a decision in May.

Meanwhile, some critics of fracking, including celebrity Yoko Ono, drew attention earlier this year for high-profile protests. Industry groups and others, however, condemn the local bans and what they call Albany's indecision.

"The Assembly's moratorium is another disappointing piece of news that further imperils the job creation and economic development potential of shale gas development in New York," says Mike Elmendorf, president and CEO of the Associated General Contractors, NYS chapter. "This has been done safely throughout the country. The EPA says it is safe. The president says it is safe. The experience elsewhere says it is safe," he adds. "Instead of relying on science and experience, some in Albany prefer to listen to such noted experts as Yoko Ono."

New Jersey

Berger Buys APIA, Its 3rd Acquisition in Year

Berger Group Holdings Inc., a Morristown, N.J.-based engineering firm, expanded its geographic reach last month with the acquisition of design firm APIA XXI, Santander, Spain, for an undisclosed sum. APIA, Berger's third acquisition in the last year, will operate as a "design center of excellence" under Berger's Louis Berger International unit. APIA has a staff of 400.

In January, Berger bought Hawthorne Services Inc., Charleston, S.C. With a staff of 350, Hawthorne specializes in facility services and fueling operations at airfields and military bases. Last year, Berger acquired Ranger International Services Group, Greenville, S.C. , which provides aviation, logistics and engineering services worldwide.

Meanwhile, industry merger and acquisition activity grew 14% to about 200 deals nationwide last year but was relatively flat in the tristate region, says Mick Morrissey, managing principal at A/E/C management consulting firm Morrissey Goodale, Newton, Mass.