Christine Stuart photo

Two legislative committees met Friday in attempt to find out why the cost of a commuter rail maintenance center in New Haven has skyrocketed from $300 million to $1.2 billion, but many walked away without answers.

Sen. William Nickerson, R-Greenwich said the legislature wants to know, “How did these cost estimates balloon at such a rapid rate?” But the Department of Transportation officials and the consultant hired last year to conduct a value engineering study of the project were unable to answer those questions.

Lawmakers were also surprised that Friday was the first time they were handed the value engineering study completed by Vanasse Hangen Brustlin in February. “We have never seen this before today,” Nickerson said. “I think we should have seen this sooner.”

Christine Stuart photo

The existence of the value engineering study led Nickerson to ask Deputy Transportation Department Commissioner James Boice what the difference between this study and the one the Office of Policy and Management plans to undertake. Boice was unable to answer the question because he said he was unfamiliar with the scope of the second consultant’s work.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell ordered the Office of Policy and Management in April, shortly after the legislature learned about the ballooning costs of the project, to hire a consultant to review the scope, design, constructability of the rail yard project. In this June 15 press release, Rell’s office announced that Hill International, Inc. was hired to study those issues in addition to reviewing the DOT’s cost estimation policies, design and constructability.

The state will spend $630,000 for Hill International, Inc. to review the project. Members of the two committees learned Friday that of the 51 suggestions made by VHB, the first consultant, 33 could save the state about $63 million. VHB was unable to put a price tag on about 18 of the 51 recommendations and the DOT decided it would only incorporate about $11 million of the recommendations.

Rep. Edward Moukawsher, D-Groton, said Friday that $63 million in savings out of a $1.2 billion project, “is disappointing to me.”

“Frankly, this is the blackhole of our transportation funds,” he said. “It eliminates our ability to bond for other projects.”

Sen. Eileen Daily, D-Westbrook, said, “We want a Chevy, not a Lexus.”

DOT Project Engineer Scott Hill said Friday that “we weren’t doing this in a vacuum.” He said the legislature is getting a “Chevy, not the Cadillac.”

The Democrat-controlled legislature announced early this year that they were not going to recommend any new state borrowing for the project until the administration reassessed all transportation projects estimated in 2005 and 2006.

The rail yard upgrade was approved in 2005 to accommodate the new fleet of 300 M8 train cars that will begin arriving next year.