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Transportation Commish, Lawmakers Worry About Rising Materials Costs

Fri August 15, 2008 - Northeast Edition
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NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) The state’s new transportation commissioner has warned legislators that skyrocketing construction material costs are affecting nearly every state transportation project.

Joseph Marie, in a memorandum to the legislature’s Finance and Transportation Committees, cited a recent American Road and Transportation Builders Association report that determined construction expenses are up 15 percent in the past year and 70 percent over the past five years.

For example, the cost of steel has risen 93.3 percent in the past year.

“I forward this information to you in the hopes of providing a clearer context for the challenges we face together as we work to rebuild and enhance Connecticut’s infrastructure,’’ Marie wrote in the memo, portions of which appeared in the July 27 edition of the Stamford Advocate.

One project over budget is a planned rail maintenance facility in New Haven. Its price tag has ballooned from $300 million to $1.2 billion. The rail yard is being upgraded to accommodate 300 new Metro-North train cars, on order from Kawasaki Inc.

Lawmakers worry that about 30 other transportation initiatives, including a new Stamford train station parking garage, are well over budget.

“It’s a shot across the bow that these numbers are not going to be too favorable,’’ said Sen. Donald DeFronzo, D-New Britain, co-chairman of the transportation committee. “We have been anticipating a substantial increase in costs.’’

Besides the rail maintenance facility, other projects in the pipeline include rebuilding the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge in New Haven; constructing the New Britain-to-Hartford busway; and performing work along Interstates 95 and 84 and Route 8.

Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, who sits on both the transportation and finance committees, said he wants Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s administration to come up with a plan to address the cost increases.

“The specter of reality is going to fall hard on DOT very soon,’’ he said.

Rell’s budget director, Robert Genuario, declined to discuss how any cost overruns would be addressed until the DOT provides the administration with an updated budget request.

“Do I anticipate that the [DOT’s] list may require the governor and the legislature to engage in a prioritization process? Yeah, I do,’’ he said. “Construction inflation is real and it’s here for the foreseeable future … And I think all of us have received an education [on] the lack of reliability on what the DOT calls a ’planning number,’’’ he said, referring to the rail maintenance facility.

The new legislative session begins in January, when Rell and lawmakers will hammer out a new two-year budget agreement.

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