State auditor finds ‘black hole’ in North Carolina Department of Transportation’s finances

State Auditor Beth Wood told North Carolina lawmakers Wednesday that she has some unanswered questions after completing a financial audit of the North Carolina Department of Transportation earlier this month.

Wood said she found gaps in reporting on $4.8 billion in NCDOT projects that are eligible for federal reimbursements – referred to as advanced construction.

Out of the $4.8 billion in advanced construction projects, NCDOT has spent $1.3 billion.

While there is a breakdown of where the $1.3 billion originated from – state funds and bonds – there is no report on how the money was spent, Wood said. There also is a “black hole” when it comes to the remaining $3.5 billion for advanced construction, she told members of the Senate Transportation Committee.

“You’ve gotten some contracts. What’s committed that the state’s going to have to build eventually?” Wood asked, referring to the missing information. “Because you can’t build half a bridge. You have to complete the project.”

Wood said she could not get the information in time to meet the deadline for the report.

The audit also found NCDOT went $742 million over its $5.9 billion spending limit for fiscal year 2019. Most of the overspending was on repairs, operations and maintenance. Wood recommended the department create a more structured budget and add another layer of oversight.

Wood asked the committee Wednesday to request the missing details on the advance construction projects. NCDOT officials will be able to respond to the request when the committee meets next week.

Sen. Michael Garrett, D-Guilford, pointed out NCDOT has been using advanced construction practices for more than 25 years, and costs started increasing recently.

“I think if it hasn’t created an issue in the past, anything that brings more federal dollars to the state to build infrastructure for our people and our businesses is a good thing,” Garrett said.

Garret said NCDOT was not fully at fault for the over expenditures on maintenance.

“The department has requested more from this General Assembly than has been awarded. I think almost twice as much as we’ve allocated to the department,” he said. “So there’s enough blame to go around.”

The General Assembly has had to route financial aid to NCDOT at least three times in the past year.

Most recently, on May 4, $300 million was earmarked for NCDOT in the state’s coronavirus relief package. The funds will be allocated only if Congress allows federal funds to be used to replace lost revenue.

In the meantime, the department has started instituting furloughs with its 9,000 employees.

“As long as I’ve been here in Raleigh, it’s something every year,” said Sen. Carl Ford, R-Rowan. “There’s always an excuse of why we’ve got to have more money. It’s because they don’t manage the money they have, and we’ve seen it time and time again.”

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