City construction projects switch to fast track

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Comptroller John Liu announce plan to speed up road, school and other construction projects, saving money while stimulating employment. Photo: Allison Maier

New Yorkers could be noticing some small upgrades to their roads and schools sooner rather than later.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, City Comptroller John Liu and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced plans Wednesday to move ahead the timelines for more than $1 billion worth of infrastructure projects — a decision that will allow the city to take advantage of low interest rates and construction costs for projects that had been slated to begin later. Some could now be completed within the next 20 months.

“These are capital funds we were going to spend anyway,” Bloomberg said at a City Hall press conference.

The hundreds of projects that are expected to benefit from the accelerated funding are part of the city’s four-year Capital Commitment Plan and are largely, in the words of Bloomberg, “unglamorous.” These include $60 million to resurface an additional 300 miles of roadway each year, $38 million on street reconstruction, $19 million on bridge repairs, $13 million on waterfront work and $20 million on public housing improvements. Close to $300 million will go toward repairs and upgrades at school buildings, which will include replacements to lighting containing toxic PCB chemicals — an issue parents have been pushing the city to deal with faster, Quinn noted.

In general, Bloomberg said, the projects the city selected to push ahead are those that are smaller and more routine — not the kind that would involve extensive planning and design work.

“These aren’t the big ideas, like an engineering center on Roosevelt Island,” he said.

Doug Turetsky, chief of staff for New York City’s Independent Budget Office, said it is not hard to move these types of infrastructure projects ahead, since they don’t require finding building sites or going through extensive approval processes.

“This kind of stuff is certainly easy to fast-track,” he said.

The idea for accelerating capital improvements originated with Liu, who brought it up in his State of the City address in February and released details several months later. His proposal was twice as large — totaling $2 billion in advanced spending. At the press conference Wednesday, Liu said the current iteration of the plan could ultimately save $200 million because of the low interest rates and promote “smart, strategic investments.”

“Put simply, this plan will deliver a much-needed shot in the arm to our city’s economy,” he said.

Bloomberg said the accelerated projects are expected to create 8,000 jobs, mostly in the construction industry.

It will also add to his record of capital investments, which have totaled $89 billion since 2002.

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