Fiscal watchdog says most New York City projects delayed, over budget


(The Center Square) — The majority of New York City’s capital projects are over budget and behind schedule, according to the state’s top counter, which is calling for changes to speed up the process and save taxpayers money.

The report by state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli found that the city government has blown past budgets and schedules on more than 5,000 projects that were reviewed as part of his investigation. Nearly two-thirds of the capital projects were delayed by more than three months past scheduled completion dates, DiNapoli said, while more than half exceeded their initial budgets — adding up to $54.5 billion in cost overruns.

DiNapoli said nearly two-fifths of the capital projects were at least 20% over budget and called for greater monitoring and reporting that could result in improvements to capital project outcomes.

“Given limited resources and an escalating cost environment, the city should monitor its capital spending in a more uniform and comprehensive manner so it can review funding expectations, prioritize where additional work is needed, and maximize the return on every capital dollar it spends,” he said in a statement.

The report cited changes in the project scope, “unforeseen conditions,” and budgetary constraints, such as a lack of capital funding for the delays. But noted that the analysis period includes the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which likely contributed to project delays and created funding pressure for project budgets.

The New York City Department of Transportation disputed the report’s findings as “flawed” because it listed resurfacing, sidewalks and other routine work as capital projects subject to budgetary constraints.

“The underlying data used for this report is based on an outdated and overly technical way of looking at these projects, and that is why some in-house, regularly reoccurring maintenance and rehabilitation work is listed with regular payments technically reflected as project budget increases,” a DOT spokesperson said in a statement.

The Adams administration issued a statement to news outlets pledging to save tens of millions of dollars annually and speed up projects by tracking them closely but calling on the state government to provide the city with more tools “to streamline the planning, design, and construction process, delivering projects faster and saving taxpayers money.”

New York City Comptroller Brad Lander, who is also responsible for oversight of capital projects, said DiNapoli’s report shows that the city needs an “all-hands-on-deck approach to reform capital project delivery” and called for the Adams administration to update its capital dashboard to provide more clarity about the status of projects.

“We cannot maintain our infrastructure if we do not know whether projects are running on-budget or on-time,” Lander said in a statement. “That means fixing what is broken — including the capital project dashboard so that we can hold city agencies accountable and improve project delivery.”

In his report, DiNapoli pointed out the Adams administration recently took steps to scale back its capital improvement plans for the first time in a decade.

“The reduction is based on the recognition that the city is unable to complete currently planned projects and manage its debt prudently, both in terms of managing statutory debt limitations and its own policy on its debt burden, a measure of the affordability of its debt servicing costs as a share of city-fund tax revenues,” he wrote.