Two major road construction projects in Vermont recently underwent state audits. While the Bennington Bypass appeared on time and under budget, paving work in New Haven was 35 days past schedule and 33 percent over budget.
State Auditor Doug Hoffer found that Agency of Transportation officials could have charged the New Haven contractor significantly more money for the delays. The Federal Highway Administration allows states to charge for expenses such as flaggers, traffic officers and signage used during the extended construction period.
Twenty-four of the 35 unscheduled days were deemed the contractor’s responsibility. To recover some money for the added time, the Agency charged $45,600 — a fraction of the ultimate costs, Hoffer said.
“I am concerned that the Agency of Transportation is leaving money on the table,” Hoffer said in a press release. “Why should taxpayers pay $70,000 for the contractor’s failure to finish the job on time?” Hoffer also linked the agency’s minimal overage charges to a risk that contractors may not feel urgency to finish their jobs on time in the future.
Changes in asphalt and fuel prices drove much of the budget excess in New Haven, according to the report. Such adjustments are “allowable” and were approved by AOT staff. However, Hoffer found substandard documentation and change-order protocols in both New Haven and Bennington. Systemic looseness in this regard may increase the risk that taxpayers could foot the bill for improper payments, he said.
Hoffer’s audit also uncovered some discrepancies at both work sites between the insurance coverage required by state contracts and the actual level of coverage on the job. “These deficiencies put the State at risk of financial loss,” Hoffer said.
Several other opportunities for the agency to shorten project timelines, reduce financial risk and deliver higher-value construction projects are outlined in the audits.