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Cost surges to $16b as NYC borough jail project faces delays

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Mayor Eric Adams revealed on Wednesday that the estimated cost of constructing four borough-based jails to replace Rikers Island has ballooned to a staggering $16 billion, doubling the original projections and underscoring ongoing challenges and delays in the ambitious initiative.

The ambitious plan, initiated in 2019 to replace the deteriorating Rikers Island complex with modern, humane detention facilities across New York City, has encountered a series of setbacks leading to the significant cost escalation.

Mayor Adams attributed the surge in costs to pandemic-related construction delays and limitations in available contractors for jail facility construction.

“It has gone up in an unbelievable manner,” Adams said from City Hall on Wednesday.

The project’s budget has undergone several revisions over the past year alone. Initially estimated at $8 billion, the cost projection increased to $11.6 billion last year and further escalated to slightly over $15 billion at the start of 2024. However, the latest announcement by Mayor Adams unveils a striking new figure, highlighting the fiscal challenges facing the city in realizing this critical infrastructure overhaul.

Despite concerted efforts to accelerate construction timelines, the city remains significantly behind schedule in meeting the target to close Rikers Island by 2027.

“The additional dollar amount [in the executive budget] is really the adjustment on the cost of building the borough based jail,” the mayor said.

The first of the borough-based jails, planned for Brooklyn, is not anticipated to be operational until 2029, missing the mandated closure deadline for Rikers by two years.

In addition to cost overruns and construction delays, concerns persist regarding the capacity of the new facilities to accommodate the city’s jail population effectively. The surge in detainees on Rikers Island, rising from approximately 5,300 at the start of Mayor Adams’ tenure to nearly 6,300 by March 2024, underscores the urgency of addressing systemic challenges within the criminal justice system.

To navigate these complex issues, Mayor Adams and City Council Speaker Adrinne Adams have pledged collaboration to explore strategies for population management and timeline adherence. Efforts to reconvene the Independent Rikers Commission aim to recalibrate closure plans in light of evolving circumstances, including the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Critics, including City Councilmember Sandy Nurse, emphasize the imperative of reducing the jail population and improving conditions within the correctional system.

“The cost does not excuse the mayor from working to safely draw down the jail’s population and work with stakeholders in the legal system to remove bottlenecks,” Nurse said. “There is plenty he can be doing to improve the situation in our jails.”

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