A Hummel Report Investigation
When the state took over maintenance of the underperforming Wickford Junction Train Station in 2015, it did so specifically to save money. But the Director of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation admits it’s been a bumpy transition from a private company to state-control. The Hummel Report found broken elevators on two occasions and unshoveled stairways after a recent snowstorm. This week Jim Hummel finds out why - and gets some answers about the future of the struggling rail service out of Wickford.
It may have been the largest number of people ever to visit the Wickford Junction Train Station.
That opening day back in 2012 - when the band played, officials gathered and the U.S. Secretary of Transportation spent most of his time praising the Rhode Island Congressional delegation, while proclaiming the $44 million project a success - even before the first train had officially taken off.
Instead it has been an albatross for the state - a four-story white elephant that never lived up to expectations and was costing taxpayers $800,000 a year just to maintain.
Alviti: ``It became a glaring example of some of the legacy issues that were passed on to us.’’
Peter Alviti said when he became DOT Director two years ago Wickford Junction was simply costing too much - with the state locked into a nearly half million dollar yearly maintenance contract with the man who developed the $25-million garage, Robert Cioe. It might have made sense if more people were using - and paying to park - at the 1,110- car garage.
But they weren’t then and aren’t now.
So Alviti moved to get out of the contract and have the DOT take over operations at the facility. That decision has come with mixed success and some recent problems at the station.
They include the breakdown of all three elevators - two in the lobby and one on the back side of the station. In December all of the elevators were out for a day and in January a day and a half because the state had failed to execute a maintenance contract. And we found the elevators hadn’t been inspected since 2014.
That left handicapped visitors with the option of negotiating this ramp from the parking lot up to the end of the platform. Or to drive up to the second level and come in on the second floor - but not really knowing that if they were unfamiliar with the layout of the station.
The DOT put up these signs right after we inquired about the non-working elevators.
After a snowstorm earlier this month the main stairs leading up to the platform looked like this, when Alviti said a company it contracts with was supposed to have them shoveled.
Alviti: ``We’ve had some bumps along the way, when we take over a large facility like this there are bound to be those bumps.’’
Alviti claims the state will save $5 million over the next decade, even after paying Cioe $750,000 to get out of the maintenance contract. Part of the savings resulted from a decision to eliminate a nearby park and ride and have RIPTA buses stop at the station - allowing the state to sell the land for $2 million and for riders to park in the garage for free.
The rest comes from contracting out some of the services and having certain maintenance tasks done in-house by DOT employees.
Alviti said under the new plan the state is now paying:
$40,000 a year for janitorial work
$25,000 for maintenance
And $30,000 for snow removal