Government and Transportation, Distribution & Logistics

INDOT spends millions with little oversight: Critics charge state's failure leads to poor work

February 14, 2005

More than half of the $8 billion spent by the Indiana Department of Transportation on construction over the last decade went to only 10 construction companies.

The same is true of the hundreds of millions spent on consulting. Ten design and engineering firms got 56 percent of all of the money contracted by INDOT-more than $155 million over the last 12 years.

The large sums of money concentrated in a relatively small number of recipients has raised alarms for some watchdogs. "Wherever there is that kind of money, the watchword is: Be vigilant. Be on the lookout for fraud and abuse," said Kenneth Mead, inspector general of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

But INDOT does not use a sophisticated software program that can help states uncover fraud-even though INDOT has spent $260,000 a year since 1993 to use it. These are among the findings uncov ered by WISH-TV Channel 8's I-Team in a wide-ranging investigation that also has found:

a lack of oversight and accountability by the state on multimillion-dollar road construction projects;

increased costs and project add-ons by consultants and contractors;

and an unusually close relationship between INDOT, engineering consultants and contractors, as well as the Federal Highway Administration and Purdue University.

"We've heard a lot of talk about, 'Well, we need to run the state more like a business,'" said Julia Vaughn, policy director for Common Cause of Indiana, a public-interest group. "But it isn't a business. There are just certain things that have to be respected in government that don't have to be respected in business."

Adherence to the state's open-door and public-records laws, Vaughn noted, is one key difference and is meant to hold public officials accountable for their decisions to spend public money.

With an annual budget of about $1.3 billion, the Indiana Department of Transportation is one of the state's largest agencies. But critics say INDOT does not demand accountability on the part of government employees, who are supposed to be guardians of taxpayer dollars and public safety.

That alleged lack of control is at the heart of a $3 million lawsuit brought by the Gale Tschour Co., which was the original contractor for the U.S. 421/Michigan Road project that took several years to complete.

INDOT's failures, according to the lawsuit, include a lack of communication, coordination and accountability

"It was a disaster," said state Sen. Murray Clark, R-Indianapolis. The project took 10 years to complete-through five INDOT commissioners, eight design changes and at least 15 construction changes-and increased the cost of the project by more than $1 million.

The I-Team investigation also detailed what critics called flawed design guidelines and a lack of oversight by INDOT that contributed to truck rollovers on a new ramp that connects I-465 South to I-70 East.

The interchange, which averages 124,000 vehicles a day, was supposed to allow more traffic to go through safely at higher speeds. Its design also was supposed to eliminate truck rollovers that occurred frequently on the old ramp.

Such accidents often cause ramp closures-which cost taxpayers in police, fire and EMS calls-and cost Indiana businesses time and money when accounting for stuck commuters and commercial traffic.

But shortly after the ramp was opened, a truck rolled over, and several other rollovers have occurred in the meantime.
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