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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

State budget chief takes fall in rail fund deficit

By Mary E. O’Leary
Register Topics Editor
HARTFORD
— Budget chief Robert Genuario Tuesday took the blame for not telling legislators sooner about the large funding shortfall the state is facing to construct the New Haven rail maintenance facility, which is already a year behind schedule.
While the General Assembly in 2005 authorized $300 million in bonding for the massive project behind New Haven’s Union Station, the projected cost in 2008 dollars is now estimated at $732 million, but officials said the more accurate figure, with 10 percent inflation, is hovering at $1.17 billion over the next 15 years.
There is a need, according to Genuario, for legislators to authorize soon another $252 million in bonding to put out contracts and start construction of the first phase by spring 2009.
“I should have done a better job of anticipating the need for a (bonding) request this year. I failed to do that in a timely manner,” said Genuario, head of the Office of Policy and Management.
He knew of ballooning cost estimates as early as 2006, but simply didn’t believe them and worked for a year to lower them, he told a joint meeting of the legislature’s Transportation and Finance, Revenue and Bonding committees Tuesday.
Angry lawmakers railed against this latest Department of Transportation problem and wondered if they would have been informed at this point had they not started exercising stricter oversight.
“I have never seen anything of this cost magnitude,” said Rep. Cameron C. Staples, D-New Haven, the committee co-chairman.
He found it “unfathomable” the DOT had not earlier factored in such things as a walkway over the tracks now identified as necessary for worker safety.
Sen. Andrew J. McDonald, D-Stamford, said the latest DOT problem is worse than the massive infusion of money needed to fix faulty drainage along Interstate 84.
“It represents a systematic failure of planning and administration. ... This speaks to a basic inability to project and administer their core functions,” McDonald said of the DOT.
The multifacility project on the 70-acre rail yard will be built to accommodate 342 rail cars the state ordered, with an option to buy 80 more. About one-third of the cars, part of Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s $1 billion plan to enhance commuter rail service on Metro-North, are set to arrive in 2010, but the first phase of the maintenance facility won’t be done until 2012.
McDonald and others said the need for more bonding authorization was apparent last year and should have been addressed then. He also pointed to an August 2007 letter from Peter Cannito, president of Metro-North Railroad, in which Cannito expressed concern the state will not have adequate facilities to maintain the new cars.
Acting DOT Commissioner H. James Boice said his agency has since worked out an arrangement with Metro-North that is adequate as long as the first phase stays on schedule.
McDonald said the cars need major maintenance every 90 days. “No one has explained to us how they think they can scale this back without compromising the project,” McDonald said.
Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said Rell should name a new head for DOT, which would be its fourth commissioner in a handful of years.
Rell has also asked an independent consultant to review the rail maintenance project, but Duff felt this was a “totally political decision. They are trying to save face. We don’t need them to save face, we need them to come up with solutions.”
Chris Cooper, a spokesman for Rell, however, said it will not cause delays.
Sen. Donald DeFronzo, D-New Britain, said a new method of estimating DOT costs was needed; Boice agreed.
Mary E. O’Leary can be reached at 789-5731 or moleary@nhregister.com.

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