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October 23, 2008

 

DiNapoli: Thruway Capital Plan Not Clear

Audit Raises Troubling Questions Whether Recent Toll Hikes Justified

The State Thruway Authority’s Capital Plan for 2005-2011 does not identify priority projects or specify whether projects are on time or on budget, according to an audit released today by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. In addition, the plan will cost significantly more than the $2.7 billion projected and take much longer to complete.

“In January, I said the Thruway Authority should hold off on toll hikes,” DiNapoli said. “The Thruway Authority had not looked at its own spending or prioritized projects. Now the Thruway is pushing back the very projects it used to justify the toll increase in the first place. It begs the question even more: were the toll hikes necessary?"

“Everything is still muddled. We still don’t know if the Thruway toll hikes were necessary. There is a lack of transparency that makes it hard for New Yorkers to understand why they’re paying higher tolls.”

DiNapoli’s office initiated a series of audits of the Thruway Authority’s operations and finances after the Thruway Authority proposed several toll hikes. In January, DiNapoli urged the Thruway to conduct a thorough analysis of its expenses and operations as well as prioritize capital projects before raising tolls. The Thruway Authority Board voted to raise tolls, claiming the extra revenues were needed because of decreased traffic and in order to pay for the capital plan.

The audit released today examined whether the Thruway Authority was adequately monitoring and reporting on the status of the capital plan. The $2.7 billion capital plan consists of more than 300 projects valued at approximately $2.14 billion for bridge and highway projects, $342 million for equipment and other facility capital needs, $250 million for the Canal System, and $7 million for economic development projects. These projects include more than 500 project items, such as road resurfacing and safety upgrades.

Auditors found it difficult to track the status of the various projects and project items included in the capital plan. Unlike other public transportation entities in the state, the Thruway Authority does not publish a comprehensive list of projects or project items, nor closely track progress. Only parts of the plan are published for management, the board and certain state policymakers. Auditors noted that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) entire capital plan and all changes are reported to the MTA’s board and are made available to the public on its Web site.

DiNapoli’s audit also found:

  • Cost More, Take Longer: Auditors examined 468 project items: 90 of the items were ahead of schedule, 151 were on schedule, 161 were behind schedule and 66 were deleted. Overall, project item budgets increased by a net total of more than $514.7 million, or 19.5 percent, over the original capital plan. Between 2007 and 2008, the expected dollar values had increased by a total of 82 percent for 31 of 59 contracts examined, going from $119.8 million to $218.1 million. Thruway Authority officials stated economic conditions resulted in higher costs and delays.
  • Incomplete Project Tracking: The Thruway Authority does not report on whether individual projects are on schedule or on budget. Instead, the Thruway Authority monitors when construction contracts were put out to bid and whether the projects were awarded to contractors at the estimated cost.
  • No Prioritization of Capital Projects: Thruway Authority officials could not provide documentation regarding a process to prioritize projects.
  • Changes to the Plan: Sixty new items have been added to the capital plan since September 2005 at an estimated cost of $176.7 million, and 78 items had been deleted that were projected to cost $381.4 million. Nearly three Canal System project items had been added for every Canal System project item that was deleted.
  • Improve Monitoring of Road and Bridge Condition: The Thruway Authority assigns numerical ratings to the condition of Thruway bridges and highway sections. However, these ratings are not routinely used to determine if the capital program is effectively maintaining the bridges and highways at a certain level of condition.

DiNapoli’s auditors recommended the Thruway Authority:

  • Develop better reporting mechanisms. Report the progress and status of the capital plan to the board, public and policymakers on an ongoing basis.
  • Incorporate numerical ratings into the monitoring process to determine whether bridges and highways are being kept at appropriate condition levels, and report them on an annual basis.
  • Subject the capital plan to a rigorous prioritization process and ensure all decisions are thoroughly documented and communicated to the board, public and policymakers.
  • Review capital plan reporting practices of other transportation agencies, such as the MTA, and adopt their best practices. At minimum, publish the entire capital plan and update it when changes are made. Prepare monthly reports comparing the actual start date and end dates of projects with actual expenses for each project against the planned start and end dates and budget expenditures. These reporting tools should be provided to the board and posted on the Web.
  • Either create a new board committee to review capital plan progress or ensure that the Capital Plan Steering Committee fully reports to the board on the progress of projects.

The Thruway Authority generally accepts the findings in the audit and has implemented or will implement many of the recommendations. The Thruway Authority’s full response is included in the audit.

Click here for a copy of the audit.

Click here for a copy of the January press release regarding the proposed Thruway Toll Increases.


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