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Mass. Dept of Transportation Secretary: ABC is Wrong, PLAs Don’t Raise Costs

An interesting op-ed exchange in the Lowell Sun is putting on display the Associated Builders and Contractors’ willingness to say just about anything to portray Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) in a negative light.

In a letter, “Gov’s insistence on PLA’s excludes majority of state’s skilled labor,” ABC of Massachusetts President Greg Beeman sets a scene of corruption among members of the Patrick-Murray administration attempting to link the progressive Governor to the infamously over-budget “Big Dig” project that ended in 2007. Beeman’s suggestion that Patrick is putting PLAs in place for political gain at the expense of the taxpayer is hyperbolic and inaccurate. According to Beemon,

In advance of the 2010 election, Patrick agreed to a PLA on a $750 million, 10-year UMass Boston rebuilding project. This winter, unofficial word was out that there would also be a PLA on the $260 million rebuilding of the Longfellow Bridge, which connects Boston and Cambridge. It was the first PLA on a state infrastructure project since the Big Dig.

With Longfellow in mind, in February Transportation Secretary Richard Davey told a construction-industry group that there would be no PLAs on the other large bridge projects in the pipeline. Based on this, companies formed the joint ventures that are common on these projects and spent considerable time and money preparing bids.

But last month, just before a key bid submission was due, the Patrick administration reversed itself and announced there would be a PLA on the $285 million reconstruction of I-95′s Whittier Bridge across the Merrimack River in Amesbury.

Enter Richard Davey, Secretary and CEO of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDot), who responded in kind with a piece titled, “Correcting Beeman opinion column inaccuracies.” The response tackles Beeman’s half truths and full lies:

Neither I nor Gov. Patrick believes it makes sense to require a PLA on all construction projects. Of the 750 projects that MassDOT has done since 2009, only two — the Longfellow and the Whittier — are PLA projects. These are two instances, however, where we believe this method is right. We are confident that using a PLA on the Longfellow and Whittier bridges will provide a safe, efficient and less costly method of delivering these important projects.

And the aforementioned promise made during a speech to a construction-industry group?

First, Mr. Beeman suggests that I made a pledge recently to disallow project labor agreements (PLA) on bridge projects other than the Longfellow Bridge. As many who were at the event he references will attest, I did not make any such promise. A decision whether or not to use a PLA on the Whittier Bridge had not yet been made.

The reality is PLAs have been used to ensure efficiency on a few large projects and have not been used on 748 others.

Perhaps what Beeman and the ABC are harping on is Gov. Patrick’s Accelerated Bridge Program. The eight year, $3 billion project has created or retained 14,000 construction jobs while reducing the number of structurally deficient bridges in the state by 20 percent. The successful program has helped Massachusetts modernize its infrastructure.

According to Davey, PLAs are an important tool for rebuilding roads and bridges while keeping costs in check. For a group as presumably “free market” as the ABC, the effort to preventing the government from employing a valuable economic mechanism such as a PLA is hypocritical, ideological and shortsighted.

Responding to the ABC’s claim that a PLA on the Whittier Bridge would “result in the vast majority of the Massachusetts construction workforce being shut out of the project”, Davey notes:

The Whittier, on Interstate 95, is a major route connecting Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. President Obama designated the Whittier Bridge one of 14 key infrastructure projects that need to be accelerated. The president in 2009 signed an Executive Order allowing the use of PLAs on federally funded projects to accelerate the delivery.

Further, Mr. Beeman suggests that the use of PLAs drives up cost. There is no evidence to back up his claim. In fact, there are numerous studies that show that using PLAs on certain projects can actually save taxpayers money.

Using a PLA on these two major projects provide me with the security I need as the secretary of transportation that these projects will be completed on time and on budget. We also have included in the PLA provisions that provide greater job opportunities for our veterans and apprentices and provisions to enhance diversity among workers.

Despite false claims and constant defamation, PLAs continue to be an effective mechanism in our nation’s fight against aging infrastructure. Gov. Patrick should be applauded for ignoring anti-worker, low-road lobbies like the ABC and continuing to implement them, and Davey should be praised for speaking publicly about their value.


One Comment on “Mass. Dept of Transportation Secretary: ABC is Wrong, PLAs Don’t Raise Costs”

  1. I know you won’t approve my comment, but I just want to point out that after more than half a dozen scholarly studies on the subject, all but one found that PLAs increase costs by between 13% and 20% depending on region and the project size. This blogpost does not mention any of the studies on the issue (including the Michigan study that found no cost increase) and simply represents a he said/she said scenario that has no place in this debate.

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