OIG Releases CDOT Aldermanic Menu Program Audit

An audit released today by the City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (OIG) examined the Aldermanic Menu Program, a key component of the Neighborhood Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plan, which is the City’s primary means of residential infrastructure management. The audit found that by relying on the Menu program for improvements to residential streets, alleys, sidewalks and lighting, the City does not provide adequate funding to meet infrastructure needs and does not follow best practices for efficient and effective multi-year capital planning. Based on these findings OIG recommended that, while aldermen and their constituents should be encouraged to provide input on residential infrastructure needs in their wards, CDOT should assume direct responsibility for the City’s residential infrastructure and implement a comprehensive, long-term strategic capital plan aligned with industry best practices.

Specifically, OIG estimated that the City’s residential infrastructure need totaled $312.8 million based on 2015 pricing. However, Menu provides only $84.0 million per year, leaving a gap of approximately $228.8 million in citywide need that is only partially met through other sources. Additionally, the City’s practice of allocating $1.32 million to each ward, without consideration of specific needs, resulted in a $9.3 million disparity in funding between the best- and worst-funded wards. No ward received fully adequate funding. Some additional investment was made as a result of water and sewer main work as well as other CIP sub-programs. However, even after taking such projects into account, OIG estimated that there remained a citywide gap of $122.9 million in residential infrastructure needs based on available data for 2015.

OIG also found that in the years 2012 through 2015, the City allowed aldermen to designate $15.1 million of Menu funds for projects unrelated to core residential infrastructure, such as decorative garbage cans, flower baskets, and artwork. Regardless of whether such projects are a worthwhile use of public funds, diverting Menu funds from projects such as street resurfacing, alleys, sidewalks, and lighting undermines CDOT’s ability to keep the public way in a state of good repair. In 2014, the City also permitted aldermen to spend Menu funds on projects located outside of the wards they represented at the time and within their yet-to-be-effectuated future ward boundaries.

OIG concluded that the Menu Program does not reflect best practices for capital planning, which should begin with the identification of needs and the determination of the cost to fulfill them. CDOT stated that it does not perform comprehensive, long-term analysis to determine and prioritize annual residential infrastructure needs. Rather, the Menu Program has received the same annual allocation of $84.0 million for at least ten years and project prioritization is made at the discretion of individual aldermen based on CDOT’s limited data.

In response to the audit, CDOT declined to address the City’s lack of long-term planning for residential infrastructure and the millions of dollars in funding disparities relative to need between wards. Instead, the Department reasserted its belief that the Menu Program provides an “appropriate framework” for addressing core residential infrastructure needs. However, CDOT did state that, “Menu programming will be limited to aldermen’s current ward, going forward.”

“The findings of this audit,” said Inspector General Joe Ferguson, “are consistent with our 2015 audit of pavement management, in which we found that the administration invests more technology, expertise, and planning in business-oriented arterial roadways and infrastructure than the residential areas subject to ad hoc and underfunded programs. Nothing in this audit suggests that aldermen should be prevented from providing input on what happens in their ward or denied discretionary funds. However, I hope that when aldermen and their constituents read this audit they realize the Menu Program as it exists masks systemic inequity and underfunding of core infrastructure—streets, alleys, and lights—and places the responsibility for managing infrastructure not with the technical experts but with legislators.”

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

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