Most Nebraska road and bridge projects are chosen based on need, not political pressure, and a few receive priority because of public support or other factors, according to a new legislative audit.
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Most Nebraska road and bridge projects are chosen based on need, not political pressure, and a few receive priority because of public support or other factors, according to a new legislative audit.
The report from the Legislature's Performance Audit Committee was commissioned after lawmakers approved a controversial roads-funding law in 2011. The new law, which takes effect in July, will divert about $65 million in state sales tax revenue into roads projects each year for the next two decades. Nebraska schools and advocacy groups opposed the law, saying it would drain money from education and other programs.
Former state roads director Monty Fredrickson, who retired in August, told lawmakers that 90 percent of the projects during his 20-year tenure were chosen based on need, according to the report released this month. Fredrickson testified that he could not recall a situation where an elected official had pressured him to choose or prioritize a specific project.
Some district engineers and highway commissioners testified that mayors and state senators occasionally contacted them about specific projects, but they said they referred the officials to the Department of Roads' central office in Lincoln. Others said they recorded the comments just as they would any other public input.
"No one we talked to cited any evidence that a project's prioritization had been significantly influenced by factors" other than the needs-based assessment, committee members said in the report.
About 10 percent of the projects were scheduled because of other factors, such as the availability of permits, the department's ability to complete them, and public support, Fredrickson said.
Nebraska Department of Roads spokeswoman Mary Jo Oie said Wednesday that projects are sometimes delayed because agency officials are waiting for environmental approval from federal regulators.
The committee report relied on testimony from agency officials, as well as budget and roads department records. Scottsbluff Sen. John Harms, the panel's chairman, said the audit showed that the department is generally meeting its goals.
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