Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Down to the wire: Carlton Avenue Bridge could reopen "before asphalt paved"; state official contradicts consultant's report that bridge is behind schedule

I have an article in Streetsblog today, Barclays Center Mysteries: Three Big Unknowns About Arena Transportation, about the delays and uncertainty plaguing three aspects of Barclays Center plans: the Transportation Demand Management plan, the surface parking lot, and the reopening of the Carlton Avenue Bridge.

While careful readers of this blog know a good deal of the story, what's new is further evidence of delays--and evasion--regarding the Carlton Avenue Bridge. I explain that in the Streetsblog article and do so in greater length here.

There's huge pressure to get the bridge reopened before the first event at the Barclays Center arena, the September 28 Jay-Z concert. So developer Forest City Ratner is considering cutting corners: opening the bridge before the asphalt is paved.

On schedule--really?

Moreover, Empire State Development (ESD), the state agency overseeing the project, has continued to obfuscate on whether the bridge is delayed.

Weekly reports from the ESDCs consultant STV, obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request, also reveal that agency official Arana Hankin, who oversees Atlantic Yards, spoke misleadingly when asked March 15 if STV had "most recently told you that it is on schedule.”

Her answer was yes, though STV, in the most recent weekly report available to her, dated March 9, stated that the bridge was "officially one month behind schedule."



Hankin: "I did not misspeak"

Hankin, Director, Atlantic Yards Project, would disagree with my characterization.

I asked her:
At that meeting, I asked if STV had most recently told you it is on schedule, and you said yes. That seems contradicted by the document attached, so I'd ask you to amend or expand on your statement. Did you have some other document or statement from them? (If so, please share.) Did you misspeak?
Her response:
I did not misspeak. As I mentioned the schedule continues to be updated based on progress in the yard. The bridge will only be considered late if it is not open at the time of the arena opening. If you are looking for specifics on how the bridge is being constructed you will need to reach out to Forest City Ratner.
If "the bridge will only be considered late if it is not open at the time of the arena opening," that may be ESD's re-assessment of the schedule.

However, STV, the firm ESD hired to monitor the bridge, keeps saying the project is "still officially one month behind schedule." Hankin did not provide any documentation that STV had changed its tune.

In discounting the report by the agency's consultant, it recalled that 2005 discussion by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority on development rights to the Vanderbilt Yard, when, after being questioned why Forest City Ratner's cash bid didn't approach the value that set by the MTA's appraiser, Chairman Peter Kalikow called it "just some guy's idea of what it was worth."

When is the bridge due?

In late January, Forest City construction chief Bob Sanna declared that the bridge was on schedule, and due for completion in early September. That directly contradicted the reports ESD had been getting from STV since September 2011, which deemed the bridge one month behind, with a completion date in late September.

On March 15, Sanna's deputy, Linda Chiarelli, declared the bridge "on schedule with the [double shift] work hours we are using. We are on time." She didn't estimate a completion date, but Hankin, after the meeting, said that the bridge was due by the end of September, and was on schedule.

Asked for an update last week, Forest City spokesman Joe DePlasco said, "At this point I can say the target date is prior to the arena opening." He didn't offer further details.

The city Department of Transportation didn't respond to my email and phone call.

What STV tells ESD

STV has consistently reported that the bridge was late. Through late February, STV allowed for one time-saving move: "use of a temporary pier at Pier 3." (They're currently working on Pier 2 now.)


As of the 3/2/12 report, STV added another option for time savings: opening the bridge before the asphalt is paved.


Incentives at work?

The bridge reconstruction is part of an "Arena Opening Condition" required by the Atlantic Yards Development Agreement.

However, failure to meet that condition would result in only the freezing of Forest City Ratner's rights to move forward on any new residential development.

Forest City is, as of last month, not expected to have the first tower started by the arena opening, but presumably it would make opening the bridge an even higher priority. So a delay might not be significant.

Pending questions

Perhaps at the next Atlantic Yards District Service Cabinet meeting, scheduled for May 3, state officials will be asked about the discrepancy between the "official schedule" and the ESD's working schedule.

We also might learn how much time would be saved thanks to the temporary pier, or opening the bridge without asphalt--and how long it would take to remedy those measures.

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