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Audit: NC DOT Spent Less Than Planned, But Risks Remain

traffic on Interstate 40 in Durham
Elizabeth Baier
Traffic on Interstate 40 in Durham.

North Carolina's Department of Transportation spent less than its leaders predicted during the second half of 2020, according to a state performance audit. But the report authors said the agency hadn't carried out key recommendations named in an audit last yearthat had found several hundred million dollars in overspending.

The audit,announced Tuesday by State Auditor Beth Wood, showed that DOT spent $2.52 billion for the six months ending last Dec. 31, or $325 million less than its baseline spending forecast.

But the positive financial result didn't happen due to efforts by DOT management to spend for roads and other projects based on realistic expectations, the report contends.

“Consequently, the fact that the department had not yet exceeded its spending plan was largely due to chance," the auditors wrote.

The agency remains at risk for spending overages because it hadn't carried out 2020 recommendations by Wood's office, the audit said. They include basing the spending plan on specific projects and operations, and monitoring activities at DOT's 14 regional offices.

In an attached response, DOT Secretary Eric Boyette wrote that the agency agrees with the findings and is now working to carry out the 2020 recommendations.

For example, DOT said, regional engineers receive biweekly maintenance spending reports and meet with higher-ups when spending is outside recommended ranges. Purchases above $500 are reviewed for approval by the division engineer or chief engineer, depending on the amount.

“While full implementation is not complete, progress has been made and is continuing,” Boyette wrote.

A state law approvedfollowing the 2020 audit, and as COVID-19-related revenues for road-building declined, gave legislative leaders the authority to pick six Board of Transportation members. DOT performance audits are now required annually. And a new position was created within Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget office to scrutinize DOT, which is one of the governor's Cabinet departments.

DOT finances are in significantly better shape compared to three years ago, when widespread storm repairs required outsized spending that led to a 2019 cash bailout of the agency.

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