Audit Shows Mistake in Prioritizing Transportation Projects

Audit Shows Mistake in Prioritizing Transportation Projects

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Paul Nelson, KSL NewsradioLawmakers are getting a good look at how money raised by a quarter-cent sales tax increase is funding Utah roads. They say there are some problems.

They say the process of deciding which roads should have priority was handled all wrong.

According to Utah's Legislative Auditor General's office, reconstruction on I-215 is number 10 on the priority list of construction projects. The 2006 Legislature asked for a prioritized list of transportation and transit projects, and out of 34, only two were prioritized correctly, including I-215.

Audit supervisor Wayne Kidd said, "We went back afterwards and looked at it, and we found a flaw."

The Wasatch Front Regional Council made the list based on things like congestion relief, safety and cost effectiveness, among other things. However, it made one major math mistake. Kidd says, basically, WFRC multiplied when it should have divided.

"Some of the projects that are larger, with a larger annual construction cost, ended up higher on the prioritization than they should have been," Kidd said.

For example, Salt Lake City commuter rail was prioritized as number two on the list, when it should have been number 19. That project got more than 50 percent of the money raised by a quarter-cent sales tax increase in Salt Lake County. Is there any way to change which projects get funding now?

House Speaker Greg Curtis said, "I'm not really sure that we can. UTA took this funding commitment and went to the Federal Transportation Administration and said this is the funding commitment we have."

Curtis says he was surprised 97 percent of the funding already given out went to rail projects instead of road construction. He says UTA is getting an extra boost of funds because it already had funding for rail projects.

Curtis is not saying rail projects should not be done. In fact, he's a big supporter. UTA officials say even though the priorities numbers were mistaken, that doesn't mean commuter rail wouldn't be funded first.

UTA General Counsel Bruce Jones said, "I believe commuter rail would have been selected by the mayors and the county council in all events. If it would have been 20th or 30th on the list, it would have been selected."

Jones says when the additional tax was originally proposed it was specifically designed for public transit. He says the only reason any of these projects can be completed is because of good judgment by legislators.

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