Oversight and Fiscal Management of State Highway Program

(2017 Wisconsin Act 247)

The State Highway Program (SHP) funds the construction, repair and maintenance of Wisconsin’s 11,800 miles of interstate and major state highways and bridges. It is the most expensive transportation-related program operated by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT). In fiscal year 2015-16, funding for the SHP exceeded $2.1 billion.

Three years ago, state lawmakers directed the non-partisan Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the management of the SHP by the DOT. Shortly after the start of the 2017-2018 legislative session, the LAB released the results of its evaluation.

According to the LAB, there were material weaknesses in the processes by which the DOT tracks the costs of major highway projects from start to finish and Department staff were not consistently following the performance measures established by the DOT to ensure that road projects are prioritized to account for condition of the road, safety of travel and economic need.

Based on its evaluation, the LAB recommended two dozen administrative changes for the DOT to improve the management, planning, engineering, construction and maintenance of state highways; and five legislative changes to improve oversight and fiscal management of the SHP.

The administrative changes recommended by the LAB were adopted as part of 2017 Wisconsin Act 59 – the 2017-2019 state budget. 2017 Wisconsin Act 247 included four of the five changes in law recommended by the LAB to improve oversight and fiscal management of the SHP. Under this new law:

  • SHP project costs estimates provided to the Governor and the Wisconsin State Legislature on a semi-annual basis must now include all costs associated with the project, including; design engineering and construction engineering costs; the costs of environmental studies; the expected date of completion; an estimate of the effects of construction cost inflation; and unexpected costs on the cost of the project; and
  • DOT is required consider and document the results of the uniform cost-benefit analysis before determining whether to undertake a proposed engagement for engineering, consulting, surveying, or other specialized services