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EDITORIAL: No excuse for cost overruns, poor planning on rest areas

EDITORIAL: No excuse for cost overruns, poor planning on rest areas

Lawmakers must act. Taxpayers deserve better than this.
EDITORIAL: No excuse for cost overruns, poor planning on rest areas
Photographer: ShutterStock

We’re not talking about nanotechnology centers here.

We’re taking about highway rest stops. A parking lot, a couple of bathrooms, a gift shop, a food court, some gas pumps and a tourist kiosk.

States have been building them since Ike was in the White House.

How complicated can it be to get one of these things built?

Oh wait, we’re in New York, where the state couldn’t build a birdhouse without poor planning, delays and cost overruns.

So the state comptroller’s new audit critical of several new highway “welcome centers” should come as no surprise, nor should the report’s findings that the state wasted millions of tax dollars due to poor planning, last-minute change orders, reshuffling of funds for other uses and general incompetence.

How bad was it?

The new welcome center on Long Island was designed without a septic system — for a building whose primary function is restrooms. That little oversight added an unexpected $4.8 million to the original price tag.

How does something so fundamental slip under the radar of everyone involved in a project?

“We were told that planning was done principally through emails and conference calls,” the comptroller wrote. “Aside from a few emails discussing local wineries, Taste NY Market updates, and the location of kiosks in the community room, region officials did not provide any substantive planning documents for this facility.”

Oh. That’s how.

A welcome center in the Southern Tier went out to bid with the plans only 30% complete.

Shockingly, the need for additional material, labor and equipment increased construction costs by more than $1.9 million. How about waiting until plans are 100% complete before seeking bidders?

That might result in a more accurate estimate.

Between Thruway Exits 28 and 29, the state held not one, but two, grand opening ceremonies for the Mohawk Valley Welcome Center.

The first was for the original $7.5 million building. The second, held less than a year later, was for a $4.5 million expansion that required tearing off 20% of the new building.

One rest area off I-90 was torn down at a cost of $1.4 million, only to find out the replacement structure wouldn’t fit on the site.

And the state spent $1.5 million on planning for a rest area on the Taconic State Parkway, only to abandon the project over environmental issues.

The comptroller’s office made obvious recommendations, such as urging the state to follow its capital plan and to document reasons for diverting from it, strengthening planning procedures and making the decision-making and taxpayer spending process more transparent.

But these incompetencies can’t be fixed by urging people to follow existing procedures. If they’d followed them in the first place, they wouldn’t have had these problems.

State lawmakers need to summon the heads of state departments to a public hearing and demand to know what exactly what they’re going to do to prevent similar issues on future construction projects.

They’ll need to demand that they be provided with a chain of accountability, and they must impose new stricter standards to ensure that planning, design, bidding and construction procedures on state projects like this are followed — or else people lose their jobs. 

No sewer system? For restrooms?

Taxpayers deserve more for their money than this ... this ... whatever you want to call it.

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