OIG Follow Up on the Chicago Department of Transportation’s Management of the Public Way Finds Some Recommendations Are Not Fully Implemented

The City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (OIG) has completed a follow-up to its January 2018 audit evaluating the design and implementation of the Chicago Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) management of construction in the public way. Based on the Department’s response, OIG concludes that CDOT has made progress, but more work remains to fully implement the recommendations.

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 street surfaces were restored in accordance with its rules and regulations. The public way consists of all City streets, sidewalks, parkways, and alleys, and serves as a corridor for underground private and public utilities, such as sewers, water and gas mains, and telecommunications conduits.

CDOT has implemented some corrective actions. Others are still in progress, only partially implemented, or not implemented at all. Specifically, CDOT has engaged and improved coordination with the Department of Planning and Development and the Public Building Commission and has implemented procedures to help ensure that contractors do not use emergency dig tickets to circumvent the project coordination process. CDOT 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. Finally, CDOT declined to assume full responsibility for residential street infrastructure planning by removing it from the Aldermanic Menu Program.

“A holistic approach to core infrastructure will help the City realize significant benefits for its taxpayers and the infrastructure they depend upon,” said Inspector General Joe Ferguson. “In strongly urging CDOT to pursue full five-year capital improvement plans from all stakeholder agencies to maximize opportunities to coordinate projects, we note three recurring features that routinely bedevil numerous otherwise effective City initiatives and operations. CDOT is managing a citywide initiative but lacks the enterprise-wide authority needed to achieve best outcomes. This is a problem only the Mayor can fix, either by giving CDOT the authority to require all relevant City departments and stakeholders to be full participants, or to direct them to do so herself. Second, the City is taking a penny-wise and pound-foolish approach, withholding enforcement resources which, if provided, would provide exponentially larger overall benefit than cost. Here again the Mayor can shift the paradigm by directing the Office of Budget and Management to work with CDOT to secure adequate staff for CDOT’s public way inspection function. Finally, CDOT’s management of this function illustrates the corrosive impact of small-bore institutional politics, manifest here in the reluctance of a major infrastructure department to assume full responsibility for core residential street infrastructure planning because it touches upon a discretionary conferral of an administrative aldermanic prerogative—the Aldermanic Menu Program. Both this follow-up and our original report make clear that providing CDOT full authority to coordinate construction impacting the public way is a best practice that would substantially improve governance.”

The full report can be found on OIG’s website.


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