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MTA suspends incentive pay program for Third Track project contractor

A sign in the Village of New Hyde

A sign in the Village of New Hyde Park Wednesday displays an electronic message reminding residents to complete a third track survey. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has suspended the monetary aspect of its incentive program that awarded its Third Track project contractor nearly $1 million in 15 months based on reviews from residents along the Main Line.

Under the Design-Builder Incentive Program, Third Track Constructors, or 3TC, a joint venture of contractors hired to build a third track along the Long Island Rail Road’s 9.8-mile Main Line, could receive up to $250,000 each quarter if it got favorable survey reviews from residents in the towns of North Hempstead, Oyster Bay and Hempstead.

MTA officials said the program, whose first survey covered the last three months of 2018, has been effective in keeping the $2.6 billion Third Track expansion project — which is expected to be completed by late 2022 — on time and within budget. 3TC has been awarded a $1.8 billion contract for its work on the project. 

“It’s encouraging the contractor to go above and beyond,” said Thomas McGuinness, project executive at MTA Construction & Development. “Some people may look at this as an extra to a contractor. But when [the contractors] do not receive a full [incentive program] payment, they look at it as a loss and a penalty being taken against them.” 

However, the coronavirus pandemic has deepened the MTA’s financial troubles and blown a massive hole in the agency's budget, prompting officials to halt the incentive payments but continue conducting the surveys. 

“We have made some tweaks during the health crisis,” MTA spokeswoman Meredith Daniels wrote in an email. “But like the work on the ground, we intend to keep the survey going until we complete this project.” 

The last survey with the incentives was in the first quarter of this year.

Some residents, who had called the award money a “bonus” that could have instead been used to benefit the communities, including Carle Place, Garden City, New Hyde Park, Westbury and Hicksville, said the suspension makes sense in today’s economic environment.

“It wasn’t a small incentive. … It’s quite a large sum,” said Amol Christian, of Westbury. “In light of everything that has gone on … it’s a common sense thing to do.”

Some village officials said the program acted as a platform for residents to air grievances and influence 3TC’s performances.

“On face value, it’s difficult to understand how they could get more money,” said New Hyde Park Mayor Lawrence Montreuil. “But the point is that the people who are involved are in a position to influence if they get that money or not.”

Graziella Simonetti, a neighbor of Christian’s, said she would like to see the survey updated to reflect safety measures taken during the pandemic.

In recent months, she and others said they have seen some workers talking without masks and not maintaining 6 feet of social distance while standing near their homes.

“We have noticed some employees not following CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines,” Simonetti said. “This is particularly concerning when workers are disregarding guidelines and acting in an unsafe manner regarding potential transmission right on our property.”

The latest survey is due on Friday and does not touch on the pandemic, but MTA officials said residents could add their feedback in the comment section.

“This is monitored, and when noncompliance is identified, it is addressed and corrected by project management,” Daniels wrote.

PERFORMANCE PAY

  • Under the incentive program, 3TC received $225,000 in the last three months of 2018. In 2019, the contractors received $188,500, $170,000, $174,000 and $183,500 each quarter, respectively.
  • The payments total $941,000.
  • The latest survey covering April through June is due July 17, which residents can fill out online or by calling 516-203-4955.

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