Local Politics

DOT, Easley Take Heat for Highway Construction Delays

Posted February 8, 2008 6:14 p.m. EST
Updated February 9, 2008 6:48 a.m. EST

— State lawmakers on Friday called for changes in the state Department of Transportation, one day after a state audit criticized the department for costly construction delays.

The audit said almost 300 highway and bridge projects completed across the state between April 2004 and last March did not start in the year they were supposed to start. More than 150 of the projects started more than a year late.

The delays cost state taxpayers more than $152 million, mostly through inflation-related increases for materials, according to the audit.

"I think a lot of accountability needs to be had, starting from the top down or the bottom up. Either way, heads should roll," said state Rep. Ty Harrell, D-Wake, a member of the Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee.

Transportation Secretary Lyndo Tippett said no DOT employee would lose his or her job because of the audit.

Auditors also said the DOT lacks comprehensive project management, so the department can not properly analyze the performance of contractors and engineers and find ways to improve.

In a 10-page response to the audit, Tippett said the DOT has been working to improve its processes. Some factors in highway construction, however, are outside of the department's control, Tippet claimed.

Gov. Mike Easley could not be reached for comment about the audit, but his spokesman said Friday that Easley was standing behind Tippett.

"Gov. Easley appointed Secretary Tippett to head the department and expects him to work to make the agency more efficient and responsive to the public," spokesman Seth Effron said.

State Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake, said Easley has not made transportation a priority, and he said the governor should be more outspoken about the audit.

"I think he'd want to acknowledge the deficiencies of DOT," Hunt said.

Hunt said he was not surprised by the audit's findings but added that he believes the DOT is addressing the issues. Still, he said, Easley and state lawmakers deserve some of the blame for the department's troubles.

"I think not only the governor, (but also) the Senate and the House deserve (blame) because they have not addressed it. They have not put anybody's feet to the fire," he said.