HARTFORD, CT — An engineer inside the Department of Transportation said Connecticut could save at least $100 million a year in taxpayer money by allowing state employees to do the work. The DOT contends that paying significantly more to outsource jobs ultimately saves tax dollars. All the while, Connecticut is racking up some of the highest per-mile road construction costs in the nation.
Travis Woodward, a project engineer in the New Haven office, said using the DOT’s own numbers, the agency would have saved $324 million over a three-year period, between 2016 and 2018, if DOT employees had performed construction inspection and engineering services instead of outside consultants.
And the DOT agrees.
Woodward is president of CSEA SEIU Local 2001 P-4 bargaining group and has been testifying for years that privatization is a gigantic waste of resources. He said the DOT’s most recent evaluation again proves his point.
“We all see our work subcontracted out to consultants in a 61.6% more costly manner,” Woodward said. “The balance is tipped way too far into the private sector.”
In addition, most of the state’s engineering workforce is eligible to retire by 2022, which will increase the cost of necessary road work even more in the future, Woodward said.
But the DOT maintains that it is operating with the right balance of state workers to contractors, even as its own report agrees with the $324 million in lost savings.
“The results of this cost evaluation showed a savings if this service were performed in-house. The length of time required to establish and fill in-house positions related to this work would be lengthy, and would likely result in inspection delays,” the report notes.
Judd Everhart, a DOT spokesman, said it doesn’t make sense for the DOT to do the work even if it produces short-term savings.
“Things like engineering and inspection services are performed on a project-by-project basis and it often makes more sense to bring in a consultant to perform the task and be done with it. As you know, state employees get state-paid lifetime pensions and health benefits long after they leave state service,” Everhart said.
Woodward countered that the same consulting firms and consultants have been used by the state for over 30 years.
“They’ve made a career on the state’s dime and yet they don’t show up as state employees,” Woodward said. “Their companies have made untold profits and continue to be a waste of money for taxpayers. While we do agree that there needs to be a balance between the use of state employees versus private consultants, the pendulum has swung way too far and we are at the tipping point with a dangerous lack of oversight on our critical infrastructure projects.”
Building roads in Connecticut is more expensive than almost anywhere else in the U.S.
The Reason Foundation as part of its annual report on federal and state highway conditions found that Connecticut spent $209,157 per lane mile of road, compared to a national average of $71,117.
On spending, Connecticut ranked 46th in total spending per mile, 47th in capital and bridge costs per mile, and 50th in administrative cost per mile. The administrative cost per lane mile in Connecticut was $35,028 per mile, while the average was $4,501.
The administrative costs in Connecticut include pension costs, which come out of the Special Transportation Fund and have increased over recent years because of the state’s unfunded pension liability. Legislative budget analysts say the Special Transportation Fund is headed for insolvency without a new revenue stream sometime after 2021.
Gov. Ned Lamont has yet to announce how he plans to prevent that from happening following his failed attempt to get the General Assembly to approve tolls.
On Monday, Lamont told the Bridgeport Regional Business Council that he plans to roll out a bipartisan plan that includes a “user fee” that will help pay for widening at the seven worst traffic choke points in the state.
He said by fixing up the choke points on I-95 they could free up about 20 minutes of commuting time in maybe five to six years.
Lamont had planned to roll out a new transportation plan as early as this week,but the announcement was postponed.