The new secretary of the state Department of Transportation is promising sweeping changes at the agency, following a critical state audit.
The audit released last month highlighted numerous problems at the DOT – including the fact that the cost of several projects climbed by billions of dollars because staff failed to account for inflation.
Appearing before the Legislature’s Joint Audit Committee on Tuesday, Secretary Dave Ross said the agency will implement all of the recommendations contained in the report. “In doing so, we will improve transparency, revise outdated policies, and – most importantly – become a better steward of tax dollars,” he said.
Lawmakers peppered Ross with questions for over an hour about how the DOT operates, as he promised to continue working with lawmakers to find solutions that put any additional savings into building new pavement.
Ross started as secretary in early January, just weeks before the audit was released. Since taking over, he told lawmakers he has seen a need to change the culture at the DOT. “We need to become more performance-drive, we need to become more accurate…and we need to break down these silos between all of these division offices around the state,” he said.
The audit is expected to weigh heavily on lawmakers as they begin work on the next state budget, which will include needing to address a $1 billion shortfall in the transportation fund.
Bill would address cost projection issues
Following the hearing, members of the Audit Committee did vote to introduce a bill that would address one of the key problems identified in the audit. The legislation would require the DOT to consider the effects of inflation when estimating road project costs.
The bill incorporates several of the recommendations included in the state audit. It would also require the DOT to make an annual report to the Legislature, and explain why the cost estimates for any projects may have changed.