Street Construction-Related Permits

Issued Date
June 13, 2022
Agency/Authority
New York City Department of Transportation

Objectives

To determine whether the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) ensures that all street construction permittees have complied with the application requirements and permit conditions, including completing the project by the scheduled permit expiration date. We also determined whether DOT coordinates with other entities planning to perform work at the same site to ensure minimal disruptions. The audit covered the period from July 2018 through November 2020.

About the Program

DOT issues 150 different types of sidewalk and roadway construction permits that cover activities such as street openings, sidewalk construction, and installation of canopies over sidewalks. Street opening permits are required for excavations or other work on a city street or sidewalk that may cause damage to or compromise the street surface. These permits are issued to entities that need access to subsurface infrastructure, including utility companies and contractors such as licensed master
plumbers.

DOT’s Bureau of Permit Management and Construction Control is responsible for overseeing all construction-related permitting. The Bureau is comprised of two offices. The Office of Permit Management (Permit Office) provides customer service for all applicants, registers permittees, reviews and approves applications, and reviews appropriate fees for both online and in-person applications. There is a central permit office in Manhattan and borough permit offices in each of the other boroughs.

The Office of Construction Mitigation and Coordination (OCMC) reviews all construction permit applications and develops permit construction activity stipulations for the work performed on the streets to mitigate disruptions to City businesses, residents, and visitors caused by street construction.

DOT developed and implemented the NYCStreets Permit Management System (NYCStreets), an online application. An applicant must first register by submitting a completed permittee registration application and supporting documentation to the Permit Office. Once the permittee is registered, they can apply for a permit to do work and pay the permit fees.

A street is placed in protected status for 5 years from the date it was last resurfaced or reconstructed. Permit requests to perform work on protected streets are subject to additional review and, according to DOT’s Street Works Manual, DOT will review an application for a street opening permit only when the applicant can demonstrate that the work could not have been reasonably anticipated prior to the street resurfacing/reconstruction.

Highway Inspections and Quality Assurance (HIQA) is DOT’s enforcement unit, which operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and has an office in all five boroughs. HIQA conducts construction site inspections to ensure permittees comply with the laws, regulations, and permit specifications and stipulations. Inspectors may issue Corrective Action Requests (CARs), Notices of Immediate Corrective Action (NICAs, or priority CARs), and Notices of Violation (NOVs). An NOV carries a monetary fine and places the issue under the jurisdiction of the Environmental Control Board. According to DOT, the New York City Department of Finance collects the fines. A permittee must perform repairs within 30 days of receiving a CAR. Corrective action is required within 3 hours of the issuance of a NICA by telephone call or email.

Key Findings

We found that DOT did not always ensure that permittees were in compliance with the street permit requirements. Among the issues we identified were the following:

  • DOT did not perform all required inspections to verify that permittees complied with permit conditions. We determined that 41,761 (14%) of 299,933 street opening permits not inspected should have been inspected. Street construction sites that are left uninspected may lead to work not being performed in accordance with the permit requirements, potentially creating a safety risk to the public.
  • There is no set time frame for HIQA inspectors to return to reinspect after issuance of a CAR/NICA, and as a result, DOT has no assurance the conditions were corrected by the permittee within the specified time frames. We found 21 CARs that were reinspected more than 3 months after issuance, including one that was reinspected more than 1 year after the 30-day time frame that permittees have to perform corrective actions.
  • Seventy-three of 75 reinspections following issuance of a CAR were passed by a HIQA inspector and approved by a HIQA supervisor but did not contain supporting documentation to show the condition or work was corrected. Further, eight of the 73 (11%) passed reinspection, but the HIQA inspectors’ remarks stated that the condition still exists. As such, supervisors approved passed inspections without assurance that the CARs were correctly passed by inspectors.
  • DOT did not ensure that applicants complied with registration and permit application requirements, including ensuring that permittees had proof of sufficient insurance.
  • DOT did not ensure that only emergency work was performed within protection periods (streets that had been resurfaced or reconstructed within the prior 5 years).
  • DOT did not provide records to support its communication and coordination with other entities, including other City agencies, for street construction projects.

Key Recommendations

  • Ensure all required inspections are assigned and performed on a timely basis.
  • Develop and implement a written policy requiring the results of all inspections to be supported and documented.
  • Establish a time frame for reinspection following issuance of a CAR/NICA and ensure inspectors reinspect the condition within the established time frame.
  • Ensure potential and current permittees comply with rules and regulations when they register with DOT and apply for permits.
  • Increase the level of communication and coordination with other entities, including City agencies, pertaining to street construction projects, and schedule and document coordination meetings before street opening work commences.

Carmen Maldonado

State Government Accountability Contact Information:
Audit Director: Carmen Maldonado
Phone: (212) 417-5200; Email: [email protected]
Address: Office of the State Comptroller; Division of State Government Accountability; 110 State Street, 11th Floor; Albany, NY 12236