Auditor general: Road repair money going to state police
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale today said his new audit of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation shows the agency could be further along in repairing rough highways and fixing 2,829 structurally deficient bridges with the billions of dollars it has been forced to pay to state police.
DePasquale said transfers from the Motor License Fund to State Police have totaled more than $4.25 billion since the 2012-13 fiscal year, money that PennDOT could otherwise have used to address a growing list of needed repairs across the state.
“More than 2,800 state-maintained bridges across Pennsylvania are structurally deficient and our bridges average over 50 years in age – beyond what they were designed to last,” DePasquale said. “That $4.25 billion could have cut that list in half and if PennDOT could use all of the gas tax money for roads and bridges we could get that number to zero in about five years.”
Locally, DePasquale said, PennDOT could speed up rehabilitation of 2.6 miles of Route 611 in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Monroe County that has been identified as the “missing link” connector for the Liberty Trail. The $30 million project is not set to begin preliminary engineering work until 2024.
Under the state constitution, proceeds from the Motor License Fund are to be used solely for the construction, reconstruction, maintenance and repair of and safety on public highways and bridges.
“There’s a whopping 57.6 cents of state tax added to each gallon of gas sold in Pennsylvania,” DePasquale said, noting that adds $5.76 to the cost of every 10 gallons of gas put in the tank. “Pennsylvanians are frustrated that our roads and bridges still need so much help at the same time we are paying the highest gas tax in the United States.”
The General Assembly did act to phase in a cap on the amount of money going to State Police from the Motor License Fund. In the 2017-18 fiscal year, State Police received $789,580,000 from the fund.
“The nearly $800 million that came out of the fund in one year could have helped PennDOT make a significant dent in the list of urgent needs across Pennsylvania,” he added. “While state police certainly deserve to be adequately funded, I don’t think anyone is thrilled about seeing gas tax revenues being siphoned off for purposes other than improving our roads and bridges.”
DePasquale applauded PennDOT for its aggressive efforts to address the list of structurally deficient bridges, which peaked at 6,034 in 2008. He spoke near Harrisburg’s Market Street Bridge, the western span of which is rated as structurally deficient and carries approximately 13,000 vehicles per day. The bridge was built in 1928.
The audit also examined how funds are awarded through the Transportation Infrastructure Investment Fund, which PennDOT administers with the help of the Department of Community and Economic Development. Funds are awarded at the governor’s discretion for transportation projects associated with economic development opportunities.
During the audit period, between Jan. 1, 2014, and June 30, 2017, PennDOT indicated the governor approved TIIF monies for 27 projects totaling almost $65.2 million as follows:
“While these may have been very worthwhile projects, my audit team was unable to find detailed documentation explaining how and why they were selected to receive funding,” DePasquale said. “I recommend that this program be revised to work like a competitive grant program and steps should be taken to ensure all regions of the state have an equal chance to receive funds.”
The audit also recommends that PennDOT speed up the grant cycle for funds awarded through the Multimodal Transportation Fund, which was created to help communities pay for projects that promote pedestrian safety and transit revitalization. DePasquale said making such a change would add more transparency to the grant process and eliminate confusion about how much grant money is available.
In addition, the audit said PennDOT’s purchasing card process is generally in compliance with the state’s procurement code but recommends the agency continue to improve its internal controls to minimize errors and mitigate the risks of fraud or abuse.
“I want to commend PennDOT for tightening up its internal controls, which are significantly better than they were in decades past,” DePasquale added.
Visit www.paauditor.gov to review the performance audit for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation or learn more about the Department of the Auditor General.