CDOT Aldermanic Menu Program Audit

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted an audit of the Chicago Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) Aldermanic Menu Program (Menu), a sub-program of the Neighborhood Infrastructure Capital Improvement Program (CIP), which is the City’s primary means of residential infrastructure management. The objectives of this audit were to determine,

  • whether the City adequately addresses residential infrastructure needs for all wards through effective planning and funding; and
  • whether CDOT effectively manages Menu projects through a uniform process.

OIG found that, by relying on Menu for residential infrastructure improvements, such as streets, alleys, sidewalks and lighting, the City does not follow best practices for multi-year capital planning, and that Menu, together with other smaller funding mechanisms, does not provide adequate funding to meet the City’s residential infrastructure needs. In 2015, Menu funding provided approximately $228.8 million less than the estimated amount needed citywide, and the City’s practice of allocating equal funds to each ward, without consideration of specific needs, resulted in a $9.3 million disparity in funding relative to need between the best- and worst-funded wards. The City allocated an additional $27.6 million to residential infrastructure through other programs included in the Neighborhood Infrastructure CIP—such as New Street Construction and Sidewalk Construction—and the Department of Water Management (DWM) conducted residential street restoration following water and sewer main work. Based on available data for 2015, OIG estimates that this DWM work may reduce the unfunded need for residential street resurfacing by no more than $78.3 million. However, DWM street restoration projects are not prioritized based on the condition of the streets, but rather, based on the age and condition of the water mains beneath them. Taken together, the other Neighborhood Infrastructure sub-programs and DWM street restoration work address some citywide residential infrastructure needs yet still leave a gap of $122.9 million citywide.

We 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 improvements.Furthermore, in 2014, the City 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. When aldermen designate Menu funds for projects unrelated to core residential infrastructure or located outside their elected ward boundaries, it undermines CDOT’s ability to meet the City’s basic residential infrastructure needs.

Finally, the City did not enforce Menu deadlines. For instance, starting in 2012, CDOT and the Office of Budget and Management (OBM) requested that aldermen program at least 80% of their project dollars by June 30th in order to allow engineers to schedule site visits, plan for construction and complete projects on time. In 2014, only 31 of the 50 aldermen met the deadline. CDOT noted it has no effective method of enforcing this deadline.

In light of these findings, OIG recommends that CDOT assume direct responsibility for residential infrastructure planning by implementing a comprehensive, long-term strategic capital plan aligned with industry best practices. Centralizing planning in CDOT would allow the City to coordinate citywide allocation of resources to address residential infrastructure needs.

If the City chooses to continue to rely on aldermen to conduct City planning, CDOT should nevertheless complete a thorough analysis of citywide residential infrastructure, and the City should ensure that sufficient funding is allocated to address the condition of infrastructure in each ward. Additionally, CDOT should ensure that Menu funding is allocated only to core residential infrastructure projects. Finally, CDOT should ensure that all aldermen limit themselves to projects located within boundaries of the wards to which they were elected, and that they meet applicable submission deadlines.

In response to the audit, CDOT disagreed with OIG’s finding and recommendation concerning the citywide funding gap for residential infrastructure and the ward-by-ward funding disparity. The Department stated that “CDOT believes that the current decision-making structure for improvements to neighborhood infrastructure provides the appropriate framework and cost effective analysis and will continue to work with Aldermen to program their Menu funds in the manner that most benefits the city and their neighborhoods.” CDOT offered no corrective action related to this finding.

CDOT also disagreed with OIG’s recommendations concerning Menu spending on projects unrelated to core residential infrastructure improvements. CDOT management stated that “Menu funding uses may include what the OIG refers to as ‘non-core residential items,’ as long as the proposed use does not violate the rules and regulations of the funding sources.” CDOT offered no corrective action related to this finding.

Finally, CDOT did agree with OIG’s finding concerning program deadlines and the application of ward boundaries. CDOT stated that “Menu programming will be limited to aldermen’s current ward, going forward.”