Friday, March 16, 2012

Is the Carlton Avenue Bridge on schedule? Forest City and ESD say yes, but it depends on what "schedule" means

Is the reconstruction of the Carlton Avenue Bridge on schedule? That question is key, given that a delay in re-opening the bridge would create chaos when arena event traffic inundates Prospect Heights.

At yesterday's Atlantic Yards District Service Cabinet meeting, City Council Member Letitia James asked about extended work hours at the Vanderbilt Yard: "The reason for extended work is because you’re behind schedule?"

"It's really not a question of being behind schedule," responded Linda Chiarelli, Forest City Ratner deputy director of construction. "It's accommodating the circumstances that were encountered out in the yard, and to guarantee that the Carlton Avenue Bridge will be open when the arena opens."

James asked if the bridge was on schedule.

"It's on schedule with the [double shift] work hours we are using," responded  Chiarelli. "We are on time."

(In November, Chiarelli's boss, Bob Sanna, explained that Forest City was paying overtime to get the bridge done.)

Looking for details

No one asked for an elaboration of that, but, after the meeting, I pressed Arana Hankin, Director, Atlantic Yards Project, Empire State Development (ESD), for details.



I pointed out that, according to reports from ESD's own consultant, STV, beginning in September and through mid-January (the last time I saw the reports, viewed thanks to a Freedom of Information Law request), the bridge was deemed one month behind, with a completion date in late September.

In late January, I pointed out, Forest City executive Bob Sanna declared that the bridge was on schedule, and due for completion in early September. That directly contradicted the reports that ESD was getting.

Chiarelli, however, had just said the bridge is on schedule, given the current work hours.

"That’s accurate,” Hankin said. “The schedule continues to change on a regular basis because things occur in the yard.”

Is the schedule to finish in the end of September or in the beginning?

“The current schedule I have says the end of September.”

“Is that on schedule or behind schedule?”

“On schedule.”

“Has STV most recently told you that it is on schedule?”

“Yes.”

“Really?”

“Things change every day,” Hankin replied. “But today, they tell me it’s on schedule.” (She laughed, maybe a bit uneasily.)

“Is that at all of concern, given that the Carlton Avenue Bridge is going to reopen right before the Jay-Z concert?”

“It’s tight," Hankin replied. "That’s why we are monitoring it very, very closely.”

Reasons to wonder

But it doesn’t make sense to set a schedule that gives them so little flexibility. The previous schedule had the bridge opening with some lead time--about a month.

But it wouldn't be the first time that a schedule was changed conveniently, and expediently. Merritt and Harris, the construction monitor for the bond trustee, reported in January that the arena had been behind for three months, according to cash flow compared with projected cash flow.

In February, however, Merritt & Harris moved the goalposts, with no explanation, and the arena was no longer behind.

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