AG’s report finds sloppy work on crumbling roads
The province’s paving system is a mess - which probably isn’t a shock to anybody who has driven on Newfoundland and Labrador’s roads - but Auditor General Terry Paddon was scathing and detailed in his examination of how the Department of Transportation and Works operates.
Paddon’s report, released Friday, details a host of problems with quality, planning and costs associated with paving roads.
He said this will be his last report as auditor general, as he’s planning to retire in October.
Paddon found that MHAs’ political priorities often override engineers’ assessments of “essential” roadwork projects, and despite the fact that many paving projects run behind schedule, contractors are not penalized.
In one case, in the district of then-Tory MHA Ross Wiseman, a paving project was ranked as 194th on a list of 198 projects, and yet for some reason it was done.
“This could mean that roads with lower safety risks were addressed before roads with greater safety risks,” the report said.
“MHA priorities made up 46 per cent of the 2015-16 provincial roads improvement budget, while essential projects made up only 23 per cent.”
Moreover, when it comes to quality, Paddon found that between 2002 and 2008 there was very little use of “tack coat” on pavement, which increased the risk of defects with the asphalt.
There were very few positive messages in the report, identifying glaring gaps and sloppy processes.
“The Department had maintenance guidelines that were out of date and were not being used,” the report states. “The winter maintenance section of the manual was never completed, and the manual itself had not been updated since its creation in 1995.”
When it came to political interference, Paddon found a situation on the Bay d’Espoir highway where only half the road was paved, despite the fact that the whole road was in equally bad shape, because it ran across two different electoral districts.
And in a lot of cases, contractors got off easy.
“Contractors were frequently graded higher on their performance evaluations than they should have,” the report said.
“Actual expenditures for about half of the projects examined surpassed the original tender. In one case the cost exceeded the original tender by $1.15 million without an approved change order.”
Paddon’s most serious recommendation was to establish some sort of pavement management system to clearly track how asphalt is aging, and what roadwork needs to be done, and on that front, Transportation and Works Minister Al Hawkins said he’s already on it.
“We’re certainly working on that, and making sure that you have better measures in place so we can effectively look at areas that we have concern.”
In the case of the contractor that got paid an extra $1.15 million, Hawkins said he believes it happened somewhere around Corner Brook, and he’s looking into the details.
“I’m not sure of the specifics of the contract.”
The latest auditor general’s report has blasted the provincial government’s handling of paving and maintaining Newfoundland and Labradors roads.