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December 28, 2010

A Report Card for CDOT

You probably missed it in the run-up to Christmas, but a new legislative report has again given poor grades to the CDOT.  This report from the General Assembly’s chief investigative panel was released, strangely, on December 23rd, a date that all but guaranteed it would get no news coverage.  Do you think this was by chance?  Hardly.

But credit should go to the excellent online newspaper CT Mirror, which broke the story, and to a few print dailies across the state which picked it up.

In summary, the report said the CDOT is late in finishing its work, especially its most expensive undertakings.  On average, the agency took 5.3 years to finish big projects, with only 37% of work finished on time (think I-95).  That compares with others states’ 57% on-time completions.

Not only were the projects late, 74% of them were over budget with an average added cost of 23%.  Over the decade of work studied, that added up to an additional half-billion of your tax dollars.

Part of the problem is that CDOT has no automated project management system to track these multi-million dollar projects.  In other words, nobody is keeping score.  Nor, in my view, does there seem to be any accountability for mistakes.  In the private sector a batting record this dismal would cause heads to roll.

Of course, there are fewer “heads” at CDOT to roll: the agency today has 20% less staff than in 1990.  Past budget cuts have seen the most experienced engineers accept buy-outs, taking their expertise with them as they exited the agency.  And it’s only going to get worse:  29% of CDOT engineers are over age 50 and are edging toward the door.

Out-sourcing work to consultants doesn’t seem the answer, as their work was slower and more expensive than jobs done in-house by the civil servants.

On the plus side, progress has been made in highway safety.  Connecticut’s annual highway fatality rate of 0.83 deaths for every 100 million vehicle miles traveled ranks well below the US average of 1.25 deaths.

Among possible explanations for this good news are that 8.8% of all Connecticut roads are “over capacity” and only 41% of our highways are ranked as giving a “good” ride.  Those factors could slow you down and keep roads safer.

Even federal stimulus money hasn’t been spent all that well.  The long over-due work repairing our rail stations has been uncoordinated and, in my view, inept.  In April the overhead canopies at several rail stations were removed, leaving passengers still standing unprotected from rain and snow seven months later. 

CDOT says the canopies can’t be replaced until overhead caternary wires are replaced on an opposite track.  But they don’t hesitate to plaster these and other ARRA job sites with hundreds of thousands of dollars in signs proclaiming their good works.  At least the sign makers got jobs if not the roof-installers.

While the legislative report does give CDOT points for increased “transparency” in its dealings with the public, the recently announced delay (again) in the delivery and testing of the new M8 rail cars stands in contradiction to that claim.

More candor and communication by the agency on this crucial infrastructure investment could have gone a long way to lessening the cynicism and distrust most have of this agency.

And we still have no idea who our next Governor will chose as Commissioner of the DOT.  Who could possibly want the job?

1 comment:

Dale said...

Congratulations on CDOT for their continued procrastination and mis-management of material and funds. I would imagine that calling for "heads to roll" would be too much to ask for from a department that is not overseen by anyone. It's our own fault, after-all we allow this to happen by not policing our own state budget and personnel.