Trains have been stopping at the Fairfield Metro train station for almost a year now, but the state hasn't finished punching all the items left on the project's construction ticket.
First Selectman Michael Tetreau and Economic Development Director Mark Barnhart gave updates on the long, controversy-plagued project's status this week to both the Representative Town Meeting and the Board of Finance.
"Overall, I would say that the project has largely been completed," Barnhart said, "with the exception of a few punch list items which should be addressed by next week."
Tetreau said the project is within its latest budget and two lawsuits filed by the construction firm have been settled. He explained that the suits were filed over changes made to plans that arose unexpectedly during construction. "For example, many of the quantities quoted were lower than the actual ones," Tetreau said of materials needed for the depot building on the site of a former foundry off lower Black Rock Turnpike.
Under the contract, Guerrera had the right to renegotiate any item that was over the initial quote by 25 percent or more. "We were in the process of doing that when they filed suit," he said. "We've come to agreement and that's all accounted for in the numbers."
So far, $44.7 million has been spent on the train station and intersection improvements, with about $400,000 still unspent. Tetreau and Barnhart said it's expected that $300,000 of that will be needed for the station and $100,000 for the rebuilt intersections around the site.
The state Department of Transportation has spent $19.9 million to date, with another $2 million expected, while the state Department of Economic and Community Development has pitched in $500,000. The town contributed $6 million, with an additional $4.4 million anticipated. Private developer Blackrock Realty has paid $4.4 million toward the rail facilities, which comprise the public segment of project, while a total of $7.1 million is expected from the federal government. The town also expects to receive another $800,000 that is held by the Conservation Department when a conservation bond is released.
In the spring of 2011, the town learned that it was on the hook for about $7.5 million in construction cost overruns for the station. The liability was incurred after then-First Selectman Kenneth Flatto revised the agreement with the state in order to jump-start construction on the stalled project. The town approved an additional $7.5 million in bonding to complete the project but is expecting to get about $2.6 million of that added money back from the state.
"If things change, we'll come right back," Tetreau told the finance panel. "There's only about $400,000 left to spend and most of that has been allocated to budgeted tasks."
Finance board member James Walsh said he's heard that Conservation Director Thomas Steinke, who recently was restored by court order to his environmental oversight role for the project, has "been out there a lot doing testing and talking to our environmental consultants." Walsh wanted to know whether Steinke's actions could push the project over budget.
Tetreau said that is being monitored and that Steinke's activities cannot incur any additional costs without going through the Conservation Commission and Barnhart.
Finance Vice Chairman Robert Bellitto Jr. said he drives by the Fairfield Metro station every day, and the commuter parking lot appears to be only half full.
"I don't have the numbers, but our waiting list is way down," Tetreau said of applicants for local railroad parking spaces, adding the state is working with the town to move more people off that list. Unlike the town's Parking Authority, he said the state, which manages the lot at Fairfield Metro, has not yet "oversold" its permits, though it is expected to do so soon.
As the result of new rail parking at Fairfield Metro, Tetreau said it looks like the town will get about 117 parking spaces for downtown parking use on the eastbound side of the Fairfield Center station, a number he said is much lower than expected. "They were a significant number of spots short at the other station," Tetreau said, which consequently decreased the number of spots released to the town at the downtown depot.
During the RTM session, Kathryn Braun, R-8, asked Tetreau for copies of itemized bills from then-Town Attorney Richard Saxl for his Fairfield Metro work, as well as the town's environmental consultants, Redniss & Mead, and compliance officer Gary Weddle.
Braun also brought up the recent proposal by Blackrock Realty to change a building proposed on its share of the site from retail/commercial use to residential. The proposal has since been withdrawn, but given a preliminary presentation to the Inland Wetlands Commission.
"You didn't tell us that," Braun said, asking why Tetreau did not mention the change to the RTM earlier. "This is something many, many constituents are concerned about."
Tetreau said Blackrock developer Kurt Wittek has "mentioned a lot of things ... until it's official, I'm not going to report on a rumor." He said any changes to the project must be approved by the town's land-use boards.
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