What about those airport jobs?
Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! That was the cry last fall from the building trades and the business sector as they urged the City Council to drop its challenge of the Federal Aviation Administration action giving the Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC) the green light for a longer airport runway and a series of other improvements.
The argument was compelling. Not only would construction jobs be created, the infrastructure built would enable the airport to grow, thereby enabling existing businesses to expand and bring in new businesses. Jobs would create more jobs.
That’s way we find it ironic that bids for the first major project, although not a part of the runway work, were at a minimum 30 percent more than what engineers projected. Construction of a deicing fluid recovery system, which will reduce the flow of glycol into Buckeye Brook, was projected to cost $21 million. The lowest of four bids was $28 million.
If construction work really is scarce, one would imagine the bidding would have been more competitive. Is that not the case? Or do the construction firms figure they have a golden cow and they’re going to milk it for all they can?
Initially, RIAC thought of ways they might work with contractors to reduce costs. On Monday, however, interim RIAC president Peter Frazier announced that all bids were rejected and the agency would re-bid the work as three separate projects. His reasoning is that there would be a larger pool of potential bidders if components of the job, not the full project, were advertised.
He could be right.
Looking ahead, there’s going to be a lot more airport work in the next three years. Apart from the runway extension that requires the relocation of the Winslow Park playing fields and reconfiguration of Main Avenue, RIAC will extend the runway protection areas to the shorter runway, alter taxiways and build new cargo facilities.
Each of these projects will go through a complete designing process where costs are projected. They will then be advertised for bids and, assuming everything comes within budget, contracts will be awarded.
Thus far, it’s off to a bad start.
If the building trades are sincere about adding jobs and building for the future, then either they must inform RIAC that they are way off base in their estimated costs and need to return to the drawing board, or at least sharpen their pencils. If bids continue to come in the way they did for this project, we’re not going to see many new jobs.