Scathing audit faults Wisconsin Transportation Department

Posted at 9:49 AM, Jan 26, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-26 18:17:34-05
A report released Thursday morning by the state's Legislative Audit Bureau found the Wisconsin Department of Transportation did not budget properly for dozens of construction projects.

The end result has put the DOT in a $1 billion deficit.

Just days before the audit was released, the state's transportation secretary Mrk Gottlieb resigned.

According to the report, 19 major highway projects cost twice as much as first estimated.

"It's not acceptable but it's not uncommon either," driver Paul Baumler said. "A lot of people low ball a bid and when the final project comes in, you're paying more than expected.

The report also discovered the cost of 16 ongoing projects increased by more than $3 billion. 

“I guess once you get started on a project you have to finish it so you can’t just let it go, but it definitely is disappointing when things cost more than they should," driver Amanda Pitzen said.

There are discussions happening now to determine how to close the budget shortfall without major delays of key projects like the Zoo Interchange.

The interchange project is now delayed by two more years. The project is estimated to be fully complete by 2022.

One option to balance the budget is to raise transportation-related taxes and fees.

It's an alternative that brings in mixed opinions. 

“I guess if you really want good roads and we need higher taxes at the gas pump, I think it’s okay," driver Rena Martin said. "We can’t go like this. Everything else is going up. The only thing that didn’t go up is my social security this year.”

Others aren't so happy about possible new fees and higher taxes.

"They need to look at the books again and stop pushing it on taxpayers," driver Sam Zarzana said. "We pay a lot of taxes as it is and I think they need to reconfigure things without stepping on the little guys."

The audit bureau also said the DOT could have done more to control engineering, construction and maintenance costs, and that it is not consistently using performance measures to improve its operations.

Michael Pyritz, a spokesperson for the Wisconsin DOT southeast region, would not comment on the audit.

New DOT Secretary Dave Ross sent out the following statement Thursday:  

"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. As the new Secretary, I couldn’t ask for more timely help."

TODAY'S TMJ4 also reached out to Governor Walker's office for comment.

His spokesperson sent us the following statement:

"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," spokesperson Tom Evenson said. "The audit shows we can find more savings. We welcome the opportunity to deliver services taxpayers expect at a price they can afford." 

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