Wednesday's official groundbreaking of the Brooklyn Bridge rehab brought out some big political names--Vice President Joe Biden, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Congressman Jerrold Nadler. What it did not bring was clarity on the job creation issue.
Because New York received federal stimulus dollars to complete the bridge work ($30 million of the $508 total comes from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, with a $192 million in additional federal funding and $286 in the city’s own capital funds going to complete the work), the city must follow certain reporting guidelines, like the amount of money spent, the progress of the work and the expected number of jobs that the project will generate, although pinning down actual job creation numbers is notoriously difficult. (Last December, the Obama administration changed the job reporting requirement to evaluate “full-time equivalent” positions paid for out of stimulus funding--regardless of whether the job was newly created or existing.
New York City’s stimulus website estimates that the Brooklyn Bridge rehab will create and/or retain 834 full-time equivalent positions--although New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said after the press conference that calculating the number was difficult. “There are all different ways to cut a job,” she said. “There’s the direct job number, then there’s the indirect job number--I think that’s 2,594 or something, it’s not an exact science.” Earlier in press conference, the vice president said that the federal stimulus dollars would create 150 jobs.
But as of March 31--the most recent stimulus reporting deadline--New York City’s own data said the bridge work had created 0.13 positions. Recovery.gov’s data registered zero jobs created, even though Skanska Koch, the contractor, officially began work in January. According to the commissioner, the .13 figure is outdated and a more accurate number will be reflected in the next reporting period, which ends June 30. “I think we have 44 people on-site right now, and we expect that number to grow as the project ramps up,” she said. WNYC was unable to find any public job postings for the Brooklyn Bridge work on either the New York State Department of Labor website or recovery.gov.
The commissioner added that the work on the bridge is “on schedule and on budget” despite its complexity--and the fact that it’s reported as being six months late on the city’s stimulus tracker. “This is not a typical infrastructure job in that this is the Brooklyn Bridge. This is a half-billion dollar project...this is not a project where you're stapling two pieces of paper together. This is a project where you are engaging a wide swath of the construction and engineering community,” she said.
But back to the Brooklyn Bridge and job creation. “Yes, these are jobs, these are real jobs,” Vice President Biden said. “But I want to point out--when people say well, this is because the economy’s in such trouble. What we’re doing here, what the mayor and the city and state are doing here on the Brooklyn Bridge--and what we’re doing on those other bridges across the country--they are worthwhile in and of themselves. (Even if) this economy were clipping along at an 8 percent growth rate and we had zero percent unemployment, this is a necessary, worthwhile investment.”
Learn more about WNYC’s Brooklyn Bridge coverage--and to sign up to help the station watch the work here.