Get Liberated ! - not regulated 

A blind assault on the public trust 

News of a lease with Amtrak does not excuse lack of oversight as CDTA built new train station

First published: Sunday, August 18, 2002

Q uestion: What went wrong in Rensselaer, where a train station built by the Capital District Transportation Authority, for use by Amtrak, costs almost $20 million more than it was supposed to, is more than two years late in opening and only now is reaching a signed deal with its main tenant?

Answer: Just about everything.

Question: Whose fault is this?

Answer: CDTA's, mainly, but also its fiscal enablers.

The anxiously awaited word -- delivered Friday by U.S. Rep John Sweeney, R-Clifton Park -- that CDTA and Amtrak had reached an agreement in principle and were working out final lease details easily might obscure what caused this crisis. But an audit released by the state Comptroller's Office is properly scathing and unrelenting in its assessment of what now qualifies as a blind assault on the public trust.

CDTA was unqualified to undertake a project of such proportions and to manage the "fast-track" design approach it brought to the project. It was unable even to properly estimate the cost of the station. And then it was unable to catch on to the real scandal -- how a $34 million train station became a $53.1 million train station. It took the Comptroller's Office to tally up the various additions and modifications that drove up the costs.

How can anyone have confidence in CDTA's ability to go forward and manage the station? We sure don't.


With $24 million in state funds at stake, others in state government -- the Department of Transportation, for instance -- should have been monitoring the project more closely.

Then there's Amtrak. As the state Division of the Budget points out, Amtrak was involved in planning and designing the Rensselaer station from the start. Its delay in signing a lease, economic and equipment woes notwithstanding, and CDTA's failure to require one at the outset are further outrages.

Even with a lease in hand, drastic changes are imperative. Among them are that CDTA should be required to find an outside agency or company to manage the train station from here. Those arrangements should, of course, be made competently.

"I don't think this is a typical project," Kevin Quinn of the state Division of the Budget said last week.

No, it isn't.

The Rensselaer train station stands out instead as an unacceptable and entirely avoidable example of the boondoggles the Capital Region has seen before, but neither needs nor deserves.

Submitted by: Werner Hetzner 

Source: Albany Times Union  7/16/02




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