The Joint Audit Committee held a public hearing Wednesday, Feb. 22 on the January audit of the Department Transportation’s highway program. The audit found increased expenditures, inaccurate cost estimates and deteriorating state roads.
At the beginning of the hearing, the committee questioned the two state auditors. Legislators expressed concern about the upcoming DOT budget. Joint Finance Committee (JFC) Co-Chair John Nygren (R-Marinette) worried that the audit may prove that Wisconsin’s $1 billion transportation shortfall has been underestimated. Others like Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) questioned if allocating more funds to DOT in the upcoming budget would be prudent given that the audit showed that DOT missed opportunities for significant cost savings.
The committee also questioned newly appointed DOT Secretary Dave Ross and Deputy Secretary Bob Seitz on the inefficiencies found in the audit and the future actions of DOT. Ross said DOT planned to adopt all the recommendations of the audit and pledged to make DOT more transparent. He said he would dig further into the cost discrepancies found in the audit. Ross told legislators that “less is better” when it comes to taking on future construction projects.
In executive session after the hearing, the committee voted unanimously to introduce companion bills (LRB 1852/2168) adopting several of the audit’s recommendations. The legislation requires DOT to account for inflation and include the expected date of completion in future road project estimates. Additionally, the legislation institutes a construction manager-general contractor process for highway project contracting, in which DOT contractors could provide feedback during the design phase of the project. The bill would also require DOT to regularly report project cost updates to legislative committees and compile this information in a central location.
Audit Committee Co-Chairman Sen. Rob Cowles (R-Allouez) said the committee would like an update from DOT in June.