OIG Publishes Pavement Management Audit

The City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (OIG) has completed an audit of the Chicago Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) pavement management program. The audit found that the program was neither efficient nor cost-effective. OIG estimates that a reallocation of resources could save the City $4.6 million per year.

Using the Federal Highway Administration’s guidelines for effective and efficient stewardship of roadways, OIG concluded that CDOT,

  • did not collect sufficient data on streets conditions;
  • did not maintain a network-level, long-term strategy for managing the City’s roadways; and
  • performed almost no preventive maintenance on City streets.

In 2007 and 2014, CDOT used a survey tool designed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers called a pavement condition index (PCI) to assess the condition of the City’s arterial streets. Industry experts assert that PCI surveys should be done every one to three years. CDOT agrees and, in its response to the audit, commits to conducting its next PCI survey of arterial streets in 2017. Using this data, CDOT says it will set goals for the condition of its streets and track how streets are performing against these goals in the long-term.

In contrast to its data collection efforts for arterial streets, CDOT has never conducted a PCI survey for the City’s residential streets, which make up 3,061 miles of Chicago’s 4,116 miles of roadway. The City carries out residential street resurfacing through the Aldermanic Menu Program—a $1.32 million flexible budget allocated to each ward annually for a variety of possible services, including street resurfacing. Under the program, aldermen choose whether and which streets to resurface using a variety of information, including basic complaint and visual inspection data provided by CDOT. For practical purposes, this means that the Department uses lower quality data and manages residential streets as a separate system from arterial streets; therefore, the City’s street maintenance is not optimized at the network level for the fiscal health of the City as a whole.

The audit also found that the City took a “worst-first” approach to its pavement management of both arterial and residential streets, which industry experts consider costly and ineffective. Over the last 15 years, the Department committed almost all of its street maintenance resources to fixing the worst streets in the City through costly corrective maintenance and repair, such as pothole filling and resurfacing. The City spent very little of its budget on extending the life of good streets through preventive maintenance, such as crack sealing. OIG conservatively estimates that, by reallocating $2.9 million per year from resurfacing to preventive maintenance on streets that, according to CDOT, are in good condition, the City would be able to keep streets in good condition for longer periods, saving an average of $4.6 million per year. CDOT agreed that a “worst-first” approach was not efficient and, in its response, describes plans to integrate preventive maintenance into its pavement management program.

“Our audit revealed that the City’s pavement program could be operated to substantially greater levels of service and fiscal benefit to residents,” said Inspector General Joseph Ferguson. “Front-end investment and a holistic approach to pavement management—including comprehensive, network-wide data collection and programing and a greater emphasis on preventive maintenance such as crack seal—would extend the life and quality of our roads and generate substantial savings in the process.”

The full report, and CDOT’s response to the findings, can be found online.

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