CDOT Management of Construction in the Public Way Audit

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted an audit of the Chicago Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) management of construction projects in the public way. The public way consists of all City streets, sidewalks, parkways, and alleys. In addition to its transportation function, the public way serves as a corridor for underground private and public utilities, such as sewers, water and gas mains, and telecommunications conduits. CDOT issues over 60,000 permits annually for construction projects in the public way—commonly referred to as “street cuts”—to allow utility companies and other stakeholders to repair, replace, or expand their underground facilities. CDOT is responsible for coordinating these projects to minimize their impact on the public, and for inspecting permittees’ street restorations to ensure that they meet the City’s quality standards.

The objectives of this audit were to determine whether CDOT maximized public way project coordination opportunities to protect its infrastructure and minimize disruptions, and whether CDOT ensured that permittees restored street surfaces in accordance with its rules and regulations.

OIG found that CDOT’s project coordination efforts reduced unnecessary roadwork and saved the City at least $18.1 million in 2016. However, we identified the following opportunities for improvement in CDOT’s coordination efforts:

  • CDOT did not consistently obtain long-term capital improvement plans from all the agencies with which it coordinates, including the Department of Water Management (DWM).
  • CDOT did not fully incorporate the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) and the Public Building Commission (PBC) into its coordination efforts.
  • The annual nature and short planning period of CDOT’s Aldermanic Menu Program for residential infrastructure made it difficult to coordinate Menu projects with other agencies.
  • CDOT’s permitting process allowed contractors to circumvent project coordination by obtaining emergency dig tickets in non-emergency situations.

In addition, we found that CDOT did not consistently hold public way opening permittees accountable for poor quality restoration work. CDOT acknowledged that it inspects only a small portion of street cut restorations, falling short of the Municipal Code of Chicago’s (MCC) requirement that all restorations be inspected to ensure they meet CDOT standards. However, the Department was unable to produce a reliable figure for the number of inspections actually completed, because most inspection records were stored in paper files rather than tracked electronically in its software system, Hansen 8. Furthermore, CDOT relied on paper-based methods for logging inspections and citations despite its use of electronic tools in other areas, only inspected public way openings pursuant to complaints received via the City’s 311 service, and employed very few inspectors relative to the volume of inspection work required by the MCC.

Ultimately, OIG concluded that CDOT’s project coordination program has reduced unnecessary street cuts and resulted in millions of dollars in savings for the City. However, the Department could realize additional savings through increased coordination. OIG also found that CDOT’s inspections program for street restorations was insufficient to ensure that public way opening permittees properly restored street surfaces.

OIG recommends that CDOT improve its coordination program by increasing information sharing among public and private agencies regarding their long-term capital improvement plans; that the Department assume full responsibility for core infrastructure planning by removing it from the Aldermanic Menu program to allow a holistic analysis of infrastructure needs; and that it implement procedures to ensure that emergency dig tickets cannot be used to circumvent the project coordination process. We also recommend that CDOT improve its compliance program by aligning its operational goals with its responsibility under the MCC to inspect all public way restorations. To that end, CDOT should conduct a staffing analysis to determine how many inspectors are needed to meet this mandate, and work with the City’s Office of Budget and Management to staff this function appropriately. While developing this strategy, and in light of the limited resources available, CDOT should immediately implement processes for random and risk-based restoration inspections in order to provide at least the possibility that any particular restoration will be subject to inspection. Finally, we recommend that CDOT track all inspections by associated permits in its Hansen 8 database.

In response to our audit findings and recommendations, CDOT stated that it would work with stakeholder agencies to obtain more long-term capital planning information; engage with public agencies that have had less involvement in public way project coordination; improve emergency dig ticket enforcement; consider implementing random and risk-based inspections; review its staffing needs; and record and track its inspections electronically. CDOT disagreed with our recommendation to remove core infrastructure planning from its Aldermanic Menu Program.