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A Hummel Report Investigation

(Some) Help on the Way

Last fall we told you about crumbling concrete, burned out lights and graffiti-covered walls on the city side of the Providence Amtrak station. Now a new report details serious structural problems you can't see, but as Jim Hummel reports, a little help is on the way.



Hummel: ``Last fall we told you about crumbling concrete that greets visitors here outside the Amtrak station. Now a new report details serious structural problems...that you can't see.''

The heavy rains of last spring subsided months ago, but even during one of the driest summers on record, water still drips down into the underground parking garage adjacent to the train station - directly below a city street in downtown Providence.

Built 25 years ago - this commuter lot it is very much showing its age.

Every day nearly 370 cars fill this garage, which is privately owned, serving hundreds of thousands of rail passengers who use both Amtrak and the MBTA commuter line to Boston.

A new report commissioned by the Providence Foundation,  an arm of the greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, says these joints in the road and sidewalk on the city side of the train station are so far gone they are like a sieve for any water, which has caused the deterioration of surrounding roads, sidewalks, and  some of the garage itself.

Last fall we reported that the above-ground area, which is owned by the city of Providence, also had lights that were either totally burned out, or remained lit 24-hours a day. The city said it didn't have the money to do what it characterized as millions of dollars of much-needed repairs

Now, we've learned, some help is on the way.

Hassett: ``It's a repair, not a full comprehensive restructuring.''

Providence City Councilman Terrence Hassett represents the  district that includes the Amtrak station. He says the city is about to award  a contract for $100,000 worth of repairs - mainly to the caulk expansion joints,  and fix up the crumbling concrete that pervades the walkways and roads surrounding the station.

Hassett: ``The real question is the overhaul, it could get into the millions. You're building something that was actually built in 1985. And the weather, with New England as it is, has had its way with the place. And they haven't done the regular maintenance I think they should have.''

It's a  classic case of Pay-Me-Now-Or-Pay-Me-Later. The city didn't keep on its end of the maintenance bargain and Later is all of a sudden Now. Further complicating matters: The city is responsible for the plaza, the garage is privately-owned, and Amtrak needs to make improvements on its property.

Hummel: There's a hybrid of ownership - does that make this difficult in terms of who owns what, who is going to go in and do what?''

Hassett: ``It does. You know we're big champions of public transportation but I think Amtrak has to step up too and make sure inside... that facility itself has some  problems. The city will do its part, as far as the street is concerned, but I think Amtrak has to step up and from the public transportation bonds come  forward and do the right thing.''

So while the city is taking money out of its long-range capital improvement account, officials need to figure out how to pay for more extensive repairs that could run into the millions of dollars.

And the owner of the garage says that while his facility is structurally safe, if something is not done for the long-run, there could be problems.

Hassett: ``The city does have a long-range infrastructure plan, the question is how do you fund it? You have to go with the worst first. This has become one of the worst.''

And the people who use this station have been asking for some answers.

Hassett: ``I talked to a gentleman on the East Side who commutes to Boston, and he said `Terry, the streets are all broken up, the garage is a mess and I use it every day. I have, it's  my mode of  transportation. So it's a concern. What do you think we can do?' I said, `It's funny you talk about it, Jim Hummel called me about it last week and we've been working on it a couple of months.' I said so hopefully we'll have a plan to at  least fix what's bad there now, and then have a long-range plan to deal with it.''

In Providence, Jim Hummel, for The Hummel Report.

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