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Posted January 9, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Vogel wants audit of VDOT

By Sally Voth

Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-27th, is calling for a comprehensive audit of the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Vogel offered the Senate a joint resolution on Wednesday, which is now before the Committee on Rules.

In a Wednesday phone interview, Vogel said this sort of legislation had been introduced before.

The resolution refers to an independent audit of VDOT leading to the discovery of $1.45 billion in unused funds.

In September 2010, McDonnell presented an audit done by a Richmond firm that showed the agency had about $500 million while shutting down 19 highway rest areas in 2009.

At that time, the governor accused VDOT of hoarding cash during his Democratic predecessor's term through "an unrealistic and unacceptable reserve policy that kept far more resources sitting in the bank that should have been deployed."

Former Gov. Tim Kaine said the fund balance instead showed good management, leaving money available to pay for projects in the Six-Year Plan.

Vogel's resolution would direct the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission to study VDOT "efficiency." It states the agency "needs forward-thinking policies, creative management techniques, cost-saving strategies, and an increase in efficiency."

VDOT's operations, bidding processes, project management, outsourcing and relationships with other agencies would all be studied. The resolution also directs all state agencies to cooperate with the commission if asked.

An executive summary would be due by the General Assembly's first regular session of 2014.

"The bottom line is we've had fairly substantial discussions about how to fund transportation," Vogel said Wednesday. [McDonnell] very much wants to come up with a long-term solution for transportation. There's no perfect solution, obviously."

But, the governor's five-year, $3.1 billion transportation plan introduced Tuesday that would eliminate gasoline tax while raising the sales tax, and earmarking more of that towards transportation programs is a great starting point, Vogel said.

McDonnell's proposal also calls for raising vehicle registration fees by $15 and levying a $100 fee on vehicles that use alternative fuel.

But, her proposal looks at transportation at a more fundamental level, Vogel said.

"The discussions we have now are kind of moving pieces around on the game board," she said. "But, what if the game board itself might have some fundamental flaw in how we're managing it?"

That's why she is looking for a baseline evaluation of VDOT itself. Corporations are known to have audits to take stock and check efficiency, Vogel said.

That is what McDonnell did when he issued an executive order for the earlier audit, which "stumbled" on $1.45 billion, she said.

The senator noted that VDOT has "made all kinds of changes," to cut costs, including reducing the workforce.

"I couldn't pass judgment on any decisions that they made," Vogel said. "I think we can always improve.

"My hope would be that this would pass and it would be more of an opportunity to have information about the efficiency of something that's important, really a big issue in my district."

VDOT didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Contact staff writer Sally Voth at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or svoth@nvdaily.com

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