PRIVATE DOUBTS, PUBLIC WORKS

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With government privatizing everything from foster care to tax collection, one union has come up with a simple reason to use public employees on a major civil construction project.

Mel Levy, chapter chairman of the Civil Service Technical Guild, says using government workers will save the state more than $340 million on its massive Long Island Railroad/Grand Central terminal connection.

Levy, a senior civil engineer with the Transit Authority, is pitching the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) and Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) on a re-design of the project that would slash private construction and engineering jobs. Levy wants the MTA and LIRR to use his rank-and-file engineers and technicians.

The price tag for construction of the MTA’s slated Eastside Access Project should exceed $2.4 billion, take 10 years to complete and funnel federal highway funds into the hands of high-priced consultants and firms. The costs include tearing up chunks of Midtown, buttressing buildings along Park Avenue and reconfiguring Grand Central Terminal.

Levy says the authority’s own engineers could do the job less disruptively–and save the city and state $250 million in construction costs. The union also claims it can save up to $88 million in engineering design costs if Levy’s department is named general engineering consultant. “I think we’ve upset the apple cart on this one,” Levy said.

MTA planners are chastened by the runaway costs of Boston’s giant Central Artery/Tunnel Project. Designed to come in at $2 billion, its price tag is now expected to hit $11 billion when completed in 2002. According to press accounts, the consortium hired more than 1,000 project managers and design staff.

Calls to the LIRR, which will issue contracts on the project, were not returned. However, Levy’s boss, MTA senior vice president and chief engineer Mysore Nagaraja, has indicated he wants intensive public surveillance of the project. In a recent letter obtained by City Limits, he urged TA president Lawrence Reuter to ensure that the agency “develop strong in-house oversight and control.”