Category Archives: Transportation

Audit reveals UDOT needs better oversight of contractors, consultants

Source: Dennis Romboy, Deseret News, August 2, 2016

Utah Department of Transportation contractors incorrectly installed 109 signs on a state road in Tooele and another dozen unsafe signs on Bangerter Highway, according to a new legislative audit. The Office of the Legislative Auditor General cited those mistakes as examples of UDOT needing to better oversee contractors and consultants on road projects…..

….UDOT is the subject of two legislative audits released Tuesday. One reviews the agency’s performance and the other takes an in-depth look at its budget, which can reach $1 billion in years with large construction projects. The audit found that because UDOT’s bidding process only considers price and time, contractors with poor performance records have the same opportunity to win bids as high-quality firms. The agency has failed to hire two full-time performance auditors as the Legislature required 21 years ago. Also, the department has used more expensive consultants the past eight years to do the work of vacant full-time jobs. A sampling of three positions showed consultants can cost three times more per hour than in-house staff. UDOT employs about 1,600 people, most of them in operations and maintenance….
Related:
A Performance Audit of the Utah Department of Transportation
Source: State of Utah, Office of the Legislative Auditor General, Report to the Utah Legislature, Number 2016-06, August 2016

An In-Depth Budget Review of the Utah Department of Transportation
Source: State of Utah, Office of the Legislative Auditor General, Report to the Utah Legislature, Number 2016-05, August 2016

Opinion: Where Are the P3s We Need?

Source: Bob Graves, Governing, July 26, 2016

Why such a small percentage? Well, it isn’t for lack of need. A 2015 Governing Institute survey found that half of state and local public officials believe lack of infrastructure investment is their most significant financial problem. Traditionally, governments have tapped tax-exempt bond markets to provide low-cost capital. But access to this market can be restricted for a variety of reasons, including limited bonding capacity or poor credit ratings, so P3s have the potential to bring in private-sector money to jump-start projects that might not happen otherwise. … To be sure, there are hurdles to creating public-private partnerships. For starters, they require authorizing legislation. While most of the early P3s centered on transportation (California was first to pass legislation in 1989, followed by Florida and Missouri the next year) projects today can cover virtually every type of public infrastructure. P3 legislation varies state to state, and the National Conference of State Legislatures provides a detailed table of the specific types of authorized projects (including highways, toll bridges, buildings, and water and sewer systems) for each jurisdiction. As of this January, 33 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia had enacted some form of legislation enabling P3s. …

… Given the gap between existing infrastructure needs and available funds, it’s not surprising that a number of recent papers and reports offer analyses and recommendations to help catalyze the use of P3s. This May, the Bipartisan Policy Center issued “Bridging the Gap Together: a New Model to Modernize U.S. Infrastructure,” which outlines the core principles of a new American model for investing in infrastructure centered on P3s. Those principles include public benefits identified and clearly stated; investment decisions based on a full life-cycle evaluation; project benefits, cost and risks completely accounted for and made publicly transparent; sharing by public- and private-sector partners of risks, costs and benefits; and comparing the costs of action against the costs of not investing. …

Guilford County Schools pay bus drivers to clean buses

Source: Amber Roberts, Fox 8, July 19, 2016

Guilford County Schools is testing out a new program. They’re hiring bus drivers to deep-clean the roughly 750 buses used during the school year. In past years, bus drivers have been responsible for cleaning their own buses and turning them in at the end of the school year. However, Guilford County Schools Transportation Director Jeff Harris has decided to take a new approach to getting the buses thoroughly cleaned. … The school system is spending about $54,000 out of their budget to pay bus drivers and to purchase the equipment needed. Going to a commercial site to get the buses cleaned could cost $300,000, Harris said. This program gives employees the opportunity to work this summer and receive additional income. Workers come in from 7 a.m. until noon to clean. They clean about 100 buses a week. …

Lansing ends privatized parts deal at city garage

Source: Eric Lacy, Lansing State Journal, July 15, 2016

The City of Lansing will terminate its relationship with a private company to supply and manage parts at the central garage because the effort “hasn’t met our expectations for cost savings,” Mayor Virg Bernero said Friday in a press from his office. A licensing agreement with NAPA is expected to end sometime in the next 30 days. Bernero said in the press release that the city decided to end the agreement after several weeks of careful financial analysis. … The city’s central garage manages and supplies parts for items and vehicles ranging from chainsaws and lawnmowers to ambulances and police cars. After Bernero’s announcement, Dennis Parker, president of UAW Local 2256 and a city employee, told the Lansing State Journal he applauds the decision. Bernero pushed for the city’s contract with NAPA over the winter — authorizing three NAPA employees to work in the garage — and estimated  that the contract could save “50,000 to $150,000” and “greatly increase efficiency” in an interview with the LSJ on Feb. 25. No city employees lost their jobs when NAPA moved in, but the UAW did lose two bargaining unit positions in the garage because two city employees were reassigned by Bernero’s administration to operations and maintenance duties. …

Fraud on Wheels: D.C.’s Privatized Paratransit Service

Source: Jeremy Mohler, Capital & Main, July 15, 2016

Transportation is the backbone of a thriving and sustainable economy. Therefore, a public transit system should be judged by how it treats those that need it most, especially people with disabilities and our most marginalized communities. The question we should ask is this: Can everyone get where they need to go — to their job, school or the grocery store? If they can’t, then handing over control of public transit to the lowest bidder should be out of the question— for example, a private company, aiming to profit, doesn’t share this public purpose. … News broke last week that a private company transporting people with disabilities in Washington, D.C., billed the government for almost $200,000 in services it never provided. The paratransit contractor, MV Transportation, which even billed for transporting people who had long since died, chalked the fraud up to “billing errors.”  But MV Transportation’s issues are typical of a contractor cutting corners to increase profits. Is it a “billing error” when some paratransit drivers in D.C., because they are paid so little by contractors, have to rely on public assistance to keep afloat? … In the era of “smaller government,” every dollar counts. Just this week, a popular feature of D.C.’s paratransit service was dramatically cut back because of funding issues. As we detailed in In the Public Interest’s latest report, Cutting Corners, contractors regularly harm the public, workers and the environment in pursuit of profit. Across a variety of public goods and services, and at every level of American government, companies put their bottom lines above the public purpose of providing middle-class jobs and quality services to everyone. …

Related:

Investigators say MetroAccess contractor billed agency for picking up customers who had died
Source: Luz Lazo, Washington Post, July 6, 2016

A Metro contractor billed the transit agency for MetroAccess services it did not provide– including transporting customers who had died, according to a settlement announced Wednesday. In a lawsuit filed in February 2013 and settled in May of this year, MV Transportation also was accused of charging Metro for the use of wheelchair-accessible vehicles on trips taken by customers who did not need wheelchairs.  The rate for trips that require wheelchair-accessible service is $65, nearly twice as much as non-wheelchair trips. MV Transportation agreed to pay $184,000 for the “billing errors” but it did not admit to any wrongdoing, company spokeswoman Nikki Frenney-Wiggins said in a statement. … Officials on Wednesday announced they had reached the settlement agreement, resolving the claims that the contractor falsely billed Metro between Jan. 1, 2005 and Dec. 31, 2013. During that time, Metro paid MV about $168 million for providing paratransit services in D.C., Maryland and Virginia, according to the company. …

MetroAccess Workers Protest Private Contractor
Source: Metro Washington Council, AFL-CIO, July 22, 2015

…According to the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), which represents more than 400 Transdev employees at this location, the company pays poverty wages, starting as low as $13.14 per hour. This sort of low-paying work combined with Transdev’s other inhumane demands, the union says, creates a toxic workplace with high turnover, resulting in poorer service for riders.

Public-private project to improve truck access to Joliet hub

Source: Associated Press, July 11, 2016

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner says state and local governments are partnering with a private company to relieve traffic congestion and provide easier access to a major commercial transport hub near Joliet. Rauner announced the agreement Monday at CenterPoint Intermodal, a rail and truck freight transport center near Interstates 80 and 55. It’s considered the nation’s largest inland port. Under the agreement, Illinois will spend $21 million to improve the Houbolt Road exit off Interstate 80. CenterPoint will spend about $170 million to build a toll bridge over the Des Plaines River and extend Houbolt Road south to the facility. …

States Diversifying Use of Public-Private Partnerships in Infrastructure

Source: Sean Slone, Council of State Governments, May June 2016

When U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx finished his remarks at the recent InfraAmericas conference on public-private partnerships, or P3s, in New York City, Kentucky state Rep. Leslie Combs was first to the microphone for the Q&A. “We just passed P3 legislation in Kentucky,” said Combs, who this spring authored the legislation that allows Kentucky, like 33 other states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, to enter into P3s to build infrastructure projects. … But Kentucky’s first announced infrastructure P3 is not a toll road or a major bridge project. In fact, at the behest of anti-toll interests in the northern part of the state, Kentucky’s legislation specifically prohibits the use of tolls on any P3 project connecting Kentucky and Ohio, such as a potential replacement for the functionally obsolete Brent Spence Bridge. Instead, the commonwealth’s first P3 project is KentuckyWired, a partnership to create a statewide, open-access fiber optic broadband network. …

… Indeed many of the infrastructure P3 projects garnering the buzz at this year’s InfraAmericas forum were somewhat different from those the U.S. P3 industry has become accustomed to over the last decade. The conference highlighted projects at major U.S. airports and on university campuses. There were transit project P3s, alternative fuel, highway lighting and water infrastructure projects and a variety of social and civic infrastructure projects—public buildings and the like—in the spotlight as well.

Letter: Cul-de-sac privatization an irresponsible idea

Source: Kate Newton, Connect Fitchburg, July 7, 2016

There has been a lot of talk in Fitchburg about cul-de-sacs as a result of Mayor Steve Arnold’s suggestion of privatizing certain roads maintained by the public (such as cul-de-sacs) in the cover letter of his Capital Improvement Plan. As homeowners who chose to live on a cul-de-sac many years ago, we are troubled by the suggestion of arbitrarily cutting us off from a public service, such as road maintenance. … If the mayor wants to privatize our street and other cul-de-sacs, where does this kind of idea end? The definition of cul-de-sac applies to every type of dead-end street in Fitchburg. This would have a major financial impact on thousands of people – homeowners and businesses alike. …

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Mayor suggests privatizing cul-de-sacs to emphasize need for road funding
Source: Leah Linchield, Channel 3000, June 14, 2016

A new way to fix bad roads in Fitchburg could leave residents paying the price. … She never imagined it could cost her, but that’s exactly what Fitchburg Mayor Steve Arnold mentioned in a letter to the City Council that suggested the suburb could privatize cul-de-sacs, leaving residents on the hook for maintenance. … It’s not a popular idea; not even Arnold – who proposed it in the first place – is a fan. … Arnold said street funding has seemed to go in circles in recent years, as the city replaces road pavement at the rate of roughly every 45 years, when it should be replaced every 30. The city council is in the process of considering whether to spend more or less money on roads in its Capital Improvement Program. Arnold said the point of this particular idea, however bad, is simply to stress the need for road repairs. …

Editorial: Privatizing government services risky business

Source: The Des Moines Register, July 2, 2016

The role of government is to serve the public interest. The role of business is to serve the interests of owners and stockholders. Yet more and more cities, counties and states are privatizing basic government functions, turning these duties over to private businesses on the theory that profit-driven companies are more efficient than government agencies. … Taxpayers are still footing the bill, of course. The private companies are simply hired contractors, providing a service for a fee in the same way a construction company is hired by City Hall to pave a road. In almost every instance, the promise of savings is what drives the move toward privatization. Elected officials who are loathe to raise taxes to pay for the increased cost of public services can always find someone who claims they can do the job for less money while still generating a profit. … A nonprofit organization called In The Public Interest has examined the not-so-hidden costs of privatization and documented the many ways in which outsourcing can go awry. …

Related:

What Government Contractors Really Mean When They Say They’ll Do It Cheaper
Source: In the Public Interest, April 27, 2016

The decades-long experiment of contracting out public goods and services by governments, known as “privatization,” has often had dire consequences for the public, workers, and the environment. Our report, Cutting Corners: How Government Contractors Harm the Public in Pursuit of Profit, details the negative impacts on the public of cost-cutting by contractors across a variety of public goods and services and at every level of American government.  To maximize profit, companies have often cut corners by reducing the quality and accessibility of services, reducing staffing levels, lowering worker wages, and sidestepping protections for the public and the environment. When government contractors cut corners, the impacts often have dire consequences. For example:

  • In 1998, Atlanta signed a 20-year contract with United Water for water and wastewater services. Only five years in, the city ended the contract after the company cut more than half of the workforce and violated federal drinking water standards, including chlorine levels six times higher than levels allowed by the contract.
  • In St.Louis, a private school bus operator recently incentivized employees for every dollar he or she withheld from school bus maintenance. The practice resulted in problems due to underinvestment and lack of maintenance, such as broken heaters, faulty brakes, excessive rust, doors falling off hinges, and tires falling off.
  • California Virtual Academies (CAVA), a network of charter schools that provide online K-12 education, employed one administrator for every ten administrators employed by school districts of similar size. As a result, one in four teachers spent 80 percent of their time on clerical work rather than teaching.

The report concludes with recommendations for public officials and communities to help protect the public and the environment from companies that seek to increase profits and lower costs by cutting corners.

Read full report.

Branstad: Iowa DOT will continue consolidating facilities

Source: William Petrowski, Des Moines Register, June 27, 2016

The Iowa Department of Transportation will continue to consolidate its facilities, but it is not planning any major layoffs, Gov. Terry Branstad said Monday. Branstad said he has met with DOT Director Paul Trombino in the wake of the Iowa Legislature’s decision to reduce a request for an additional $9.7 million in state funding to $4.85 million. DOT officials sought the extra money to cover cost increases for collective bargaining agreements, merit pay increases and state employee insurance contracts. Without the money, they warned the agency faced layoffs of more than 400 employees over the next four years, which could hurt efforts to plow snow, fill potholes, issue driver’s licenses and inspect construction projects.

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Iowa DOT expands Highway Helper program, outsources operation
Source: Ryan Smith, KCCI, July 9, 2015

Highway Helper’s success in the metro prompted the Iowa Department of Transportation to expand services; however, the state has hired an outside company to run the program. … The DOT will deploy four more trucks: two in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and two in the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City area. However, the DOT will no longer use state workers to run Highway Helper. “This allows us to free up our workers to concentrate on highway maintenance and activities,” said Andrea Henry, who works for the department. Instead, the state is paying Wisconsin-based Prairie Land Towing $9.1 million to operate the program for three years….