Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Missouri's poor roads may be more of a result of poor planning than lack of revenue, according to a report released today by Missouri State Auditor Claire McCaskill.
"MoDOT has historically spent more money expanding roads, than repairing or preserving them," the audit said.
Missouri ranked 37th nationally in how much it spends to maintain its roads, the audit said. The state spends 53 percent less than the national average. "MoDOT data showed road conditions did not improve between 1996 and 2003, and have remained below national averages since 1998," the audit said.
In 2001, MoDOT planning documents indicated that the emphasis would be placed on maintenance, but the department's actions didn't live up to its words. "In June 2004, when MoDOT received an extra $137 million in federal road dollars, only 22 percent went to preservation," the audit said.
The report also criticized MoDOT for not properly evaluating road projects or the cost effectiveness of expansion projects.
MoDOT had the privilege of having not one, but two, audits released on its performance today. The second one paints a portrait of a bullying state department that pressures people into selling property that they do not want to sell.
"Over half of the property owners surveyed by auditors said MoDOT's initial offer for their land was less than fair market value," the audit said. "Most often, MoDOT officials are buying property that is not for sale and this can result in contentious negotiations with someone who may not want to sell their property. About half the owners surveyed also said MoDOT gave 'little or no consideration' to their input."
Until June 2004, the audit said, the department would not even reveal anything to property owners about the appraisals it used to determine property values.
The audit uncovered inconsistency in how the department bought property for right-of-way. In some areas of the state, only the property that was actually needed was purchased, while in other areas, the state bought all of the property owner's land.
Apparently, the department does not follow its own plan to determine what property to buy or hold onto, according to the audit. "Auditors found MoDOT owns nearly 8,000 acres of future ROW (right-of-way) property related to projects not included on its 5-year construction plan. MoDOT has owned about half the land for 25 years or more, including some dating back to the 1920s."
The department also did not exactly get the most for its investment, the audit said. "Auditors found MoDOT leased 234 properties to other parties and received rent of $20 a year or less for about half of these leases - some at no cost. Lease records did not contain justification for the lack of compensation for most of these leases. In 13 cases, MoDOT paid $1.7 million for the related properties, but subsequently leased the properties back to the previous owners for nothing or $1."

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