New audit calls 60 percent of asphalt in repairs substandard

The city auditor's office has released its fourth audit this year criticizing Portland street paving program.

The audit, scheduled to be released this morning, found that nearly 60 percent of the asphalt used by city crews to repair Portland streets does not meet the city's own quality standards - potentially resulting in early repair failures and unnecessarily higher costs.

'These failures mean the city's paving work may not last as long as it should, leading to increased work and higher costs, as well as inconveniencing the public due to poorer street conditions and more frequent paving,' the audit said.

The street paving program is operated by the Bureau of Maintenance of the Portland Office of Transportation. It paves around 50 miles of city streets every year. The office is overseen by Commissioner Sam Adams, who said he accepts the audit's findings.

'We need to address this issue,' said Adams, who was assigned the office in June 2005. He plans to hire a pavement management expert at the bureau to help the city buy more asphalt that meets its standards.

The nearly 60 percent failure rate actually is an improvement over the 83 percent failure rate the auditor's office found in 1988, the last time the paving program was reviewed. But Drummond Kahn, director of the Audit Services Division, said the previous audit should have resulted in a much greater improvement.

'This is not a new problem. They've known about this for years,' Kahn said.

Materials not up to snuff

According to the October audit, the transportation office checks the quality of the asphalt the city purchases by taking samples at the paving sites and having them tested at the city's Materials Testing Laboratory.

The audit found that over the past six years, nearly 60 percent of the new pavement tested did not meet city density standards.

The city's standards are higher than those used by the Oregon Department of Transportation.

The audit found that approximately 40 percent of the asphalt purchased by the city failed even the state's more relaxed standards, however.

The other three audits released this year also faulted the administration of the paving program and called for sweeping changes in the way it prioritizes and oversees maintenance and repair projects.

Adams accepted the findings and said he will now ask the City Council to appoint a task force to make sure the recommendations are enacted.

The city has more than 3,900 lane miles of improved streets valued at $3.6 billion. The audits come as the city faces an ever-growing backlog of streets needing repairs.

According to the auditor's office, the backlog has grown from 439 miles in 1991 to 597 miles in 2005, a 36 percent increase in 14 years. The estimated cost to repair the backlog has more than doubled since 1994, growing from $44.8 million to $92.9 million, the office said.

String of problems found

The May audit found that the program was not fully complying with state laws designed to ensure that projects were done for the lowest possible cost.

Twenty-two percent of the in-house paving projects in 2005 were so large the state Bureau of Labor and Industries should have reviewed them to make sure that private companies could not do them more cheaply.

Instead, program administrators did not notify the state of the projects, which cost $3.6 million.

The July audit found that - contrary to the program's stated goals - it was not engaged in preventative maintenance. Instead of preventing streets from deteriorating to the point where they need major repairs, the program was concentrating on repairing streets in poor conditions, including short-term fixes on badly deteriorated streets.

The September audit faulted the program for negotiating poor asphalt supply contracts.

According to the audit, the contracts failed to ensure an adequate supply of asphalt for repair projects and program officials failed to take advantage of volume discounts that could have saved the city $100,000.

None of the audits attempted to estimate the total dollar amount the problems have cost the city - or exactly how much they increased the backlog of streets needing repair.

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