The City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (OIG) has completed a follow-up to its January 2018 audit of the Chicago Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) Management of Construction in the Public Way. Based on the Department’s responses, OIG concludes that CDOT has implemented some corrective actions, while others are still in progress, only partially implemented, or not implemented at all.
The purpose of the 2018 audit was to determine whether CDOT maximized public way project coordination opportunities, thereby protecting City infrastructure and minimizing disruptions, and whether the Department ensured that permittees restored street surfaces in accordance with its rules and regulations. OIG found that CDOT’s project coordination efforts saved the City at least $18.1 million in 2016 and reduced unnecessary roadwork, though we identified further opportunities to improve coordination. We also found that CDOT did not consistently hold public way opening permittees accountable for poor-quality restoration work.
Based on the results of the audit, OIG recommended that CDOT,
- improve its coordination program by increasing information sharing among stakeholder agencies regarding their long-term capital improvement plans;
- improve project coordination with the City’s Department of Water Management (DWM) and ensure that DWM provides a five-year capital plan;
- involve the Public Building Commission (PBC) and Department of Planning and Development (DPD) in project coordination efforts;
- assume full responsibility for core infrastructure planning by removing it from the Aldermanic Menu Program;
- implement procedures to ensure that emergency dig tickets cannot be used to circumvent the project coordination process;
- conduct a staffing analysis to determine how many inspectors are needed to meet CDOT’s legal duty to inspect all public way restorations, work with the City’s Office of Budget and Management (OBM) to staff this function appropriately, and implement processes for random and risk-based restoration inspections; and
- track all inspections by associated permits in its Hansen 8 database.
In its response to the audit, CDOT described corrective actions it would take regarding most audit recommendations but disagreed with OIG’s recommendation that the Department assume full responsibility for core infrastructure planning by removing it from the Aldermanic Menu Program.
In February 2019, OIG inquired about corrective actions taken by CDOT in response to the audit. Based on the Department’s responses, we conclude that CDOT has implemented only some corrective actions. Others are still in progress, only partially implemented, or not implemented at all. Specifically, CDOT has engaged with DPD and PBC to improve coordination with these entities, and has implemented procedures to help ensure that contractors do not use emergency dig tickets to circumvent the project coordination process. It has improved the way it solicits information from stakeholder agencies via their capital improvement plans, though it still does not collect five-year plans from each agency, a significant operational shortcoming in an otherwise conceptually sound program. CDOT has begun to address the gap between its mandate to inspect all public way restorations and its inspections staff’s capacity, but has not been allocated resources to significantly expand this function. It has begun to develop an electronic system to schedule, record, and track inspections and citations by associated permit, though development is still in its early stages. Lastly, CDOT still declines to assume full responsibility for residential street infrastructure planning by removing it from the Aldermanic Menu Program.
We strongly urge CDOT to pursue full five-year capital improvement plans from stakeholder agencies to maximize opportunities to coordinate agencies’ projects, to assume responsibility for core residential street infrastructure planning by removing the function from the Aldermanic Menu Program, and to continue its work with OBM to secure adequate staff for its public way inspection function. We also urge the Department of Water Management to develop the organizational capacity to produce a five-year capital improvement plan for its Water Bureau.
In renewing these recommendations, we are mindful that CDOT’s capacity to implement is in meaningful part a function of limitations in its authority to enforce discipline and necessary action by other coordinating agencies, as well the exercise of political will of the Office of the Mayor. We urge the new administration to freshly examine and assess the issues and recommendations raised in OIG’s audit as well as this follow-up.