Baltimore’s transportation director was before a City Council committee for a quarterly oversight hearing just one week after City Auditor Josh Pasch released a devastating report about her agency.
He found that DOT takes years – sometimes decades – to process the paperwork needed to get reimbursed for federal highway projects.
So today, did Council members question Director Corren Johnson about the millions of dollars not recouped efficiently, hampering future highway and bridge construction in Baltimore?
And did the members – John Bullock, Ryan Dorsey, Phylicia Porter and Chair Danielle McCray – grill her about the most egregious example that Pasch found, a project completed in 1998 for which the final vouchers for reimbursement were not submitted until 20 years later?
The answer is no.
Added to DOT’s Meeting Schedule
Johnson herself brought up the matter, very briefly, in her opening remarks to the Council’s Health, Environment and Technology Committee.
“Getting into the project closeout, we had an increase in staff from just one staff person to four,” Johnson began. “We continue to work to try to digitize records, ensuring the paper files are converted to those digital storage capabilities.
“We’re also looking for ways to improve the overall construction management and closeout process to include exploring the use of tablets during the construction phase to minimize some of the manual data entry that the project closeout team will have to enter in at the closing of the project,” she said.
“We’ve also added this as a priority task to the agency’s ProjectStat meeting schedule,” she concluded.
And that was it.
“We continue to work to try to digitize records, ensuring the paper files are converted to those digital storage capabilities” – Corren Johnson, DOT director.
Council members questioned Johnson about other matters – the city’s Complete Streets law, towing industry regulations and trees blocking Citiwatch cameras.
She was asked by Councilwoman McCray about the number of school crossing guard vacancies for the upcoming school year. One of her staffers said the number was “about 60.”
Johnson’s remarks closely tracked with the explanations that her agency provided when the closeout delays were disclosed at last Wednesday’s Board of Estimates meeting.
“Things just sit there”
Back then, Auditor Pasch explained in plain English what was going on.
Recouping money owed to Baltimore by federal and state agencies can take decades “because things just kind of sit there” at DOT, he said.
He also presented the findings of his review of 18 federally subsidized transportation projects.
“DOT was not able to provide documentation for seven samples, or approximately 39% of the samples selected for testing,” his report noted.
“We identified delays ranging from 16 months to 235 months (approximately 19.6 years) from the completion of construction to the reimbursement voucher sent to the SHA,” the report continued.
Exhibit A was the “Mount Street/Amtrak Project” in West Baltimore.
After the $2.5 million project was completed in 1998, it was not until 2018 that the agency sent out its final vouchers for reimbursement.
DOT has never established timelines – or deadlines – in the closeout process, Pasch said. “Basically, one division will send the files to another division. But there is no overall tracking.”