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Dallas doesn’t inspect road maintenance work, lacks rules to ensure proper monitoring, audit says

This story, originally published in The Dallas Morning News, is reprinted as part of a collaborative partnership between The Dallas Morning News and Texas Metro News. The partnership seeks to boost coverage of Dallas’ communities of color, particularly in southern Dallas.

A city review of Dallas’ public works department found that the agency routinely doesn’t check to make sure work is done properly, on time or on budget.

Crews work
Crews work on a street resurfacing project in northeast Dallas on Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022,(Smiley N. Pool / Staff Photographer)

By Everton Bailey Jr.

Dallas’ department that oversees street maintenance routinely doesn’t check to make sure work is done properly, on time or for the estimated cost, according to a city audit.

According to the audit, the Public Works Department doesn’t have any written rules that instruct city workers when or how often they should test contractors’ paving repairs or other maintenance work to verify roads aren’t going to fail earlier than they’re supposed to. Records are scattered between being tracked on paper kept in boxes and three different computer software programs that makes it hard for workers to monitor or get reliable information on projects. 

Written rules on overseeing the roadwork also don’t exist, as well as policies on making sure the results of the reviews are documented, looked over and approved by management, and properly filed. Project costs also go above estimated prices without much scrutiny from public works officials, the report said.

The lack of department oversight and review, and poor record-keeping opens the door for fraud, unnecessary payouts and subpar street maintenance, according to the city review. The audit, which was released on Friday, doesn’t identify specific cases of fraud or failing roads. But it does mention millions of dollars in unplanned expenses paid to some contractors for roadwork without any explanation from the public works office.

City audits in 2015 and 2017 found similar patterns of missing documents related to completed roadwork, inspections and formal policies and procedures.

The auditor’s office analyzed 16 road projects in 2019 and 2020 by two contractors hired by the city and found only four projects had daily progress reports. But none of them was filled out completely. None of the projects had documents showing final inspections were done when the work was finished or any explanation saying a final review wasn’t necessary.

Daily reviews, final inspections and written supervisor verification that no inspections are needed before continuing with road project are among city requirements for the public works department, the audit said.

The audit looked at two companies that got almost $289 million in public works contracts for pavement and road resurfacing work from 2019 through 2021. The majority of the amount came from bond money, but $90 million came from the city’s general fund.

The audit found that as of Oct. 28, 2021, the city had paid nearly $140.7 million to the two contractors for street work — more than $15 million than the estimated cost. But the Public Works Department didn’t provide any reason why more money was needed.

“The Department of Public Works personnel do not consistently document and review quantities of materials invoiced for pavement maintenance and road resurfacing projects,” the audit said. “As such, there is an increased risk of fraudulent activities or improper payment to contractors.”

The auditor’s office made 16 recommendations for the public works department director including putting in rules that lay out quality control testing and proper monitoring for road projects, creating a new system to track all projects in one place, and getting money back for at least one of the projects where the city overpaid.

City Manager T.C. Broadnax in a Feb. 8 letter in response to City Auditor Mark Swann’s report said the city intends to move toward implementing many of the recommendations but not all of them.

“Management will accept the risk for many of the moderate-risk recommendations as most would require additional staff or significant investments in systems that are not currently budgeted,” Broadnax wrote.

Among the accepted risks are not making sure the reasons project cost overages are documented in department files, making sure workers completely fill out progress reports and creating a system that tracks projects in one place.

Broadnax’s office said the Public Works Department is using one software program and is creating a plan to routinely monitors that inspection forms are completed. The office also said the public works department’s cost estimates are “adequate” and since they are rough calculations it inherently means the final amount could be higher or lower.

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