In a new phase of a long dispute over extra costs, the New York State Thruway Authority has denied all but a tiny fraction of the $930-million design-build consortium's claim for extra costs in constructing the Mario M. Cuomo bridge in New York state.

The claim determination awarded the Fluor-led consortium $28-million instead, for a mixture of comparatively small added costs and time-extensions, keeping the project well within its budget, the authority stated.

Tappan Zee Constructor, said in a statement it is still reviewing the determination, which it said encompassed 3,000 pages including all appendices. The consortium also stated it is pleased the contractual claim review process, begun in 2018, is moving forward rather than the thruway authority "continuing to draw out the claims process," which places burdens on the companies involved and "ultimately" New York taxpayers.

Consortium members also included American Bridge Co., Granite Construction Northeast Inc. and Traylor Bros. Inc.

A big source of trouble in the consortium's eyes was the thruway authority's micromanaging deep into the design process.

In February, the consortium filed a lawsuit in the New York State Court of Claims seeking extra costs on the bridge, which opened for service in 2018 and achieved substantial completion later. 

The consortium said it temporarily withdrew its lawsuit in order for the established Thruway Authority dispute resolution process to play out but added it reserves its right to sue again.

New York  Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has frequently said the bridge was done on-time and on-budget and that the project and others during his tenure prove the viability of large state infrastructure projects. The cost of the bridge project has often been tied to the toll charged to cross the bridge, a sensitive issue with regional motorists who rely on it.

The main determination document runs to 380 pages, and ENR has not reviewed the complete text. It crystalizes some of the issues related to design-build on the $3.14-billion project and the controversially blurry border line where the design, quality control and owner-oversight converge. The thruway authority said most of the consortium's claims lack merit, failed to comply with notice requirements or were based on improper damage calculations.

But the parts released, and the statements by the authority's project director, Jamie Barbas, who made the determination, revolve around the thruway agency exercising its right to oversee the project's quality control and quality assurance. 

Under its contract, the design-build consortium had responsibility for QA and QC, and it hired other companies to help carry out that work. 

But the  authority sought to exercise oversight of the design-builder's quality control and found places where it demanded changes in the work, according to Barbas. "As part of our oversight, we felt responsible to do that work," she said in an interview. "We wanted to be satisfied that the QC and QA entities were following quality protocols."

"We wanted them to follow," the design-build consortium's own approved quality management plan, Barbas added.

A major source of trouble in the consortium's eyes was the authority's micromanagement deep into the design process. It allegedly added hundreds of millions of dollars of extra costs for the constructor, the consortium lawsuit had claimed.

The authority "and its agents regularly performed unnecessary, detailed reviews" of the consortium's design, which "significantly impeded and disrupted the design development process." The design-build contract specifically required the authority to work collaboratively with the constructor, said the consortium, and expedite submittal and review of changes without delaying design and construction and adding to costs.

In the lawsuit, the consortium says the interference and long, drawn-out analysis and delays included a bridge perimeter barrier system, steel pipes, pile caps and the structure's concrete pedestal.

Thruway: Oversight Saved Errors, Costs

But Barbas' ruling said the thruway authority's oversight of quality headed off costly mistakes and future costs.

Early in the project, the authority found that the design-build consortium's pile welding and testing program "lacked sufficient rigor" to properly spot "the extent of weld deficiencies" common early in foundation work. New testing criteria suggested by the agency corrected the problem, it states, and the weld quality improved.

More recently, the thruway authority stated, it had found problems with anchor pipe fabrication. "Extensive in-situ testing" had to be substituted for various missing quality records and allowed the thruway authority to modify "a number of in-place pipe assembles."

"While the bridge strength and public safety are not issues," Barbas stated, the changes made during the project "are bound to improve the long-term performance of the pipe assemblies as the contract calls for no major maintenance for decades to come."

The $28-million in additional payments that Barbas granted are a mixed bag. Some payments granted to the consortium included time extensions for several winter storms and some traffic barrier changes. Some other costs granted relate to a fatal tugboat accident unconnected to the construction.

Still other granted claims concern the public walkway on the new structure. Several granted claims involve partial denials and mixtures of compensable and non-compensable time extensions.