DOT unfazed by I-40 repairs

Staff WriterDecember 12, 2007 

The state Department of Transportation says it felt no pain when it was forced by the General Assembly to absorb $22.4 million in repair costs for a bungled paving job on Interstate 40 in Durham County.

DOT officials could not put their finger Tuesday on any projects that were delayed, jobs that were eliminated or services that were curtailed because of the punitive budget reduction.

DOT had planned to count the paving fix as a cost overrun on an I-40 widening project -- a move that would penalize local residents by subtracting the money from future Triangle road funds. Instead, the legislature embarrassed DOT by subtracting the money from its statewide administrative budget for the next two years, through June 2009.

Mark Foster, DOT's chief financial officer, told a legislative committee Tuesday that the department would absorb the cuts by continuing some economizing steps it had begun three years ago.

Rep. Danny McComas of Wilmington wondered whether DOT needed that money at all.

"If you can generate $22 million in savings from your administrative budget, [would] that indicate that your budget was inflated by that much?" McComas asked Foster.

Foster said the financial pinch probably kept DOT from doing some things "that maybe we strategically should have. And some of those efforts are reflected in some of the administrative work we have either delayed or not done -- or positions we haven't funded."

He provided no examples. In a telephone interview later, Foster said DOT officials will not be able to say how they absorbed the $22.4 million hit -- a 6 percent cut from its administrative budget -- until next year when they finish an overhaul of department operations and spending priorities.

The issue arose after DOT engineers were blamed for errors that caused fresh pavement on I-40 to begin crumbling soon after it was applied in 2003 and 2004. The defective concrete was removed this year and replaced with asphalt on a 10.4-mile stretch of I-40.

Bill Rosser, the state highway administrator, said he did not know of anything DOT officials were unable to do because their budget had been cut by $22.4 million. Rosser's predecessor resigned when DOT admitted its failures on I-40.

"Any time that you defer something, don't spend money on something, there's something probably that you should be doing that goes lacking because you don't have the money to do this," Rosser said Tuesday.

bruce.siceloff@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-4527

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