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A Hummel Report Investigation

A Work In Progress

The Wickford Junction commuter train station opened last year with great fanfare - and predictions that 1,500 people a day will be using it by the year 2020. What didn't make the press release is that taxpayers are picking up most of the $500,000 a year tab for maintenance of a mammoth parking garage next door that sits virtually empty. This week Rhode island's Director of Transportation remains upbeat during his first-anniversary report card on the project.

SCRIPT

Right on schedule, the 7:45 MBTA commuter train arrives at Wickford Junction,  where more than two dozen passengers hop on for the ride north- some heading to Warwick or Providence, others all the way up to Boston.

The rail service began with great fanfare a year ago, the culmination of more than a decade of planning - and a $44 million investment by taxpayers to build the station and an adjacent four-story 1,100 car parking garage. The garage itself accounted for $25 million of the total cost.

A year later, the MBTA-run service is attracting about 200 daily riders, most going to Boston. But just 80 people a day are paying the $4 parking rate needed to help offset a half a million dollar annual bill to maintain the mammoth garage. The state needs 500 vehicles parking - and paying - daily to break even.

Lewis: ``On the good news side the people who are using it absolutely love it, which is what we anticipated. You can work, you can read, you can sleep, you can converse, you can do whatever; you're not focusing on the driving and you don't have all of the stresses of driving.''

Rhode Island Department of Transportation Director Michael Lewis says the commuter rail service is very much a work-in-progress - but he is satisfied so far with the numbers the trains are drawing most weekdays. There is no weekend service.

Lewis: ``The total numbers using it are less than we had hoped in the early years - we always knew this was going to take time and I'm not talking months. This is years to have the ridership grow to what predications were back when the project was planned.''

Those predictions are that 1,500 passengers will be riding daily out of Wickford Junction within seven years, and three-quarters of them will pay to park.

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