A new state audit shows the Department of Transportation failed to account for the effects of inflation and cost increases when planning projects, which has resulted in delays.
According to the report from the non-partisan Legislative Audit Bureau, the cost of completing 16 current road projects rose by a total of $3 billion more between the times they were approved and last August. The report said the DOT should have done a better job of controlling costs for things like engineering and maintenance
The audit also found that the state’s highway system has steadily deteriorated over the past five years, with the number of highways rated in good condition falling from 53.5 percent in 2010 to 41 percent in 2015. The LAB said the proportion of state highways listed in good condition in 2014 was also “considerably lower” than it was in six other Midwestern states.
DOT Secretary Dave Ross said the audit findings would help to “spur improvement” at the agency. “My goal for the DOT is to maximize Wisconsin’s transportation infrastructure without increasing the burden on taxpayers. The Legislative Audit Bureau report provides a roadmap to improved efficiency and transparency at the DOT.”
Ross only recently took over as DOT secretary.
The report comes as the Legislature and Governor Scott Walker gear up for an expected fight over how to deal with a $1 billion hole in the state’s road fund during state budget negotiations. Walker has been adamant about relying on costs savings to deal with the shortfall, which could mean further delays. Assembly Republicans have argued the state should be looking at new revenue sources, which could include exploring toll roads or raising the gas tax.
In a statement, a Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said the audit shows the state can find more savings on road projects. “The bottom line is we shouldn’t even be thinking about raising the gas tax or fees until we find every last cost savings at the DOT, and the audit shows we can find more savings. We welcome the opportunity to deliver services taxpayers expect at a price they can afford.”
Senate Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) said the audit shows Wisconsin’s roads are deteriorating at a rapid pace due to project delays and budget cuts made by Republicans. “Instead of solutions, Gov. Walker and Legislative Republicans have created a crisis that is jeopardizing thousands of jobs and putting the safety of Wisconsin drivers at risk,” she said in a statement.
Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) echoed those concerns. “The Republican leadership’s neglect of our roads is as inexcusable as it is unacceptable. Our crumbling infrastructure is costing taxpayers and hurting our economy. This is yet another hurdle for our struggling middle class and our slow job creation,” he said. “The GOP has let the taxpayers of Wisconsin down. We are in a crisis state, and we need to take immediate action.”