You would think that if you were responsible for running one of the biggest agencies of the sate government and auditors told you that agency was facing a deficit of $456 million, your quota of “bad news” would be pretty much met for the year.
But not necessarily.
Auditors told the leadership of the Georgia Department of Transpor-tation last week that what they had suspected was true — the DOT has committed millions in funding for road projects that it didn’t have to commit.
But the auditors also shared some other distressing news, like the fact that contracts and change orders totaling millions were found in a filing cabinet and had never been put into the state’s accounting system. And the fact that the DOT has by forced acquisition acquired land for projects never built, and doesn’t know for sure how much right-of-way property it even owns.
In truth, none of the findings come as a great surprise. DOT Commis-sioner Gena Evans, who requested the audit, has spent months telling anyone who would listen that the department’s finances were not in order. Now she has the evidence needed to support that position.
Funding for road projects is a complicated process. Money has to be allocated years in advance of actual construction and completion, and along the way there is always the chance the scope of a project will change, cost of construction will increase, deadlines will be missed, funds will be moved, or political powers will shift so that this year’s priority is forgotten by next year.
Or the paperwork could just be lost in a forgotten file drawer.
Politics and roadwork are intertwined in Georgia like kudzu climbing up a stop sign. The promise of new roads has led to the election of governors, legislators and local politicians, all of whom then get involved in the financial allocation process.
Evans and the current DOT board seem determined to straighten out the mess, though it remains to be seen whether the state’s political power structure will allow that to happen.
An end result of such a deficit in the DOT is that projects already promised may not be built at all, or delayed for years, which is especially unfortunate in metro Atlanta where traffic problems vex residents on a daily basis.
It remains to be seen how much the DOT’s deficit will affect Forsyth County, but any delay in state funded road projects is going to have an impact. With Georgia already facing a budget crunch due to a weakened economy, there isn’t going to be money to continue on with business as usual.
Hopefully the DOT is on the road to improving its financial picture, but given the state’s history of mixing politics with asphalt, there’s no guarantee that identifying the problem means it’s on the way toward being fixed.