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Reaction from the audit of DOT, which shows Wisconsin vastly underestimated project costs

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Audit found La Crosse’s north-south corridor has grown to over $143 million.

Some groups are describing the audit released Thursday that seems to show gross mismanagement by the Wisconsin DOT as “shocking.”

Peter Skopec is with WISPIRG, an advocacy group interviewed by state auditors for the report. He told WIZM the audit points the way forward for reforms.

“We’re hoping that the DOT is going to provide more clarity about how much a project is really going to cost,” Skopec said, “what portion of the project is going to be expansion versus rehabilitation or rebuilding.

“And, also that the DOT is going to take more input from the public on what really is the best option for any given community.”

Like the north-south corridor proposed in La Crosse, which has grown to more than $143 million, according to the audit.

The project has been on hold for almost 20 years. It’s one of 16 major highway projects approved but not completed that have increased by $3.1 billion.

What the audit shows on simplest of levels are the most basic lessons. Chief among them is one that seems to spell a need for more clarity about real costs of major road projects.

“As we’re kind of looking ahead at new projects that are on the horizon we just have to make sure we’re clear with taxpayers about how much these projects are going to cost,” Skopec said.

One of the more troubling findings from the audit, Skopec says is that the “DOT has basically given the green light to fund more projects than we can actually afford.”

To Skopec, that means another look at lower cost, alternative transportation options for communities that want them. Lower cost than the roads projects that the state has committed to but clearly can’t afford.  

“This is fundamentally also just an issue of what are we prioritizing in the budget,” Skopec said.

The findings from the report can be found below …

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — An audit released Thursday faults the Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation for dramatically underestimating project costs. 

The report found the state could have saved $296 million over the last decade if the agency had followed engineering performance measures, met quarterly goals for soliciting construction bids, gotten two bids on 363 contracts that got only one and met annual on-budget performance measures for state highway projects.

The report also finds that estimated costs for 19 major projects completed between 2006 and 2016 were $1.5 billion. That is $772 million more than initially projected. 

The audit also finds that the estimated costs of 16 ongoing major highway projects have increased by $3.1 billion. 

“Instead of solutions, Gov. Walker and Legislative Republicans have created a crisis that is jeopardizing thousands of jobs and putting the safety of Wisconsin drivers at risk,” Senate Democratic leader Jennifer Shilling of La Crosse said. “With a $1 billion transportation deficit just months away, it’s time for the majority party to take a hard look at the facts and start working toward solutions. Wisconsin can’t afford to lose more jobs to Republican budget deficits and project delays.”

The audit was released by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau. 

Republican state Sen. Rob Cowles calls the audit “will be devastating to the management of DOT. They have to do this whole thing differently.”

A report in 2016 estimated that Wisconsin’s deteriorating roads cost drivers $6 billion a year in increased vehicle maintenance costs, repairs and lost time. 

DOT Secretary Dave Ross wrote in a letter attached to the report that the agency has worked to improve cost projections over the last six years and the audit examined projects dating as far back as the 1980s. He added that estimating costs is always risky and other states, including Minnesota, have seen project cost overruns. 

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