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June 30, 2008

The New Haven Rail Yard Budget Mess

Once again, our elected officials in Hartford have outdone themselves. At a time when mass transit seems the only alternative to high gas prices (ridership is soaring and trains are jammed), they are nickel and dime’ing our state’s transportation future.

The issue: the over-due rail yard maintenance facility in New Haven.

In 2005, lawmakers approved $300 million for these vital shops and repair facilities for our soon-to-be-delivered M8 rail cars. Now, everyone in Hartford seems shocked, stunned or amazed that the project has grown to $1.2 billion.

Mind you… the cost quadrupled partly because the project more than doubled in size, so let’s keep our apples and oranges straight.

At recent hearings, legislators have suggested that CDOT slash its plan, and indeed, the agency itself came up with $11 million in cost cuts. “That’s no more than a ‘rounding error’”, grumbled one lame-duck Senator.

At first, Governor Rell denied that she knew anything of these rising costs, sending her stalwart budget czar, Robert Genuario to fall on his sword by admitting that he had been told about the cost increase but neglected to tell the Governor. Good solider, bad boy.

Then a newspaper FOI suit found out that the Governor’s Chief of Staff, Lisa Moody (remember her… disciplined for soliciting campaign donations for Rell from state workers on ‘company time’?) knew about the price increase all along. And a CT-N videotape of a ribbon-cutting (which I personally attended), showed the Governor 10 feet away from CDOT officials when the media asked, and the agency disclosed, hard numbers about the necessary cost increases. Somebody wasn’t paying attention.
So, what is the Governor’s answer to the soaring cost increase? Why, hire more consultants and spend more money, of course! That’s right… Governor Rell wants to pay $630,000 for another audit of the CDOT plan.

Mind you, CDOT itself just finished paying other consultants to “value engineer” their design, and they’re the ones who found only $11 million in potential cuts.
What’s going on here? Who’s to blame? Or is this just “business as usual in Hartford”?

In my view… Let’s not blame CDOT for designing the kind of rail facility we really do need. Instead, blame our elected officials for not having designed and built it a decade or two ago when we should have and could have done so for much less.
Playing catch-up in the expensive transportation business is, well, expensive.
Lawmakers were shocked to hear that the MBTA built a similar locomotive shop for $258 million. But that was in the 1990’s when Hartford was ignoring transportation under the Rowland administration. Rome was burning and we all danced a jig to Rowland’s fiddling with taxes.

More recently, George Bush’s $3 trillion war in Iraq is also costing us dearly. The US dollar has plummeted in value, oil is soaring and construction materials are doing likewise because of Pentagon demand.

Engineers told lawmakers they now must factor in 10% annual inflation, not 3% as in years past. And because the New Haven rail yard project continues to 2017, well, you do the math.

I have seen the CDOT plans for the New Haven shops and, while neither our lawmakers nor I am engineers, they seem to make sense to me. We need these facilities! They are not a Lexus… just a Chevy as outside consultants have confirmed.

CDOT was wrong to low-ball the costs at $300 million without having finished the necessary design work. And maybe $1.2 billion is a bit high. But CDOT has explained the added costs and the longer we dicker, or waste more money on more consultants (the only people making money on transportation these days), the higher the cost will ultimately be.

We should have made these investments in transportation decades ago. Now we are paying the price. Let’s not compound these problems with further delays and political posturing. Get on with it!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow ... Thats quite an increase. The one thing I can not figure out is was there a formal report notifying the Governors office of the increase. Was there a project Steering commitee or oversight commitee that tracked the budget and kept Ms. Rell informed on the status.

I have worked on projects of "almost" similar size and forgetting to tell (in writing) the head of an organization of an increase such as this will get you fired in the corporate world.

Governor Rell has her constituents to be concerned about most who don't have to ride Metro North like we do. It is understandable she wants to hire an audit team if she was not formally notified. Just "Saying" something does not cut it. People have selective memories BUT if there was a formal report submitted to her office with a meeting that is a different story.

The governor really needs to assign someone or appoint someone to be the liason on this project and keep her informed. Hold off on paying more for the project in terms of an audit.

Connecticut is a mess in terms of transportation. I-95 is packed, parking is limited and corporations don't seem to be helping.