Audit criticizes SHA contract changes -- Gazette.Net



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The Maryland State Highway Administration has had to take dozens of modified contracts back to the Board of Public Works for approval after wrongly changing or extending them without the proper authorization, according to state auditors.

The audit, presented Dec. 4 to the Joint Audit Committee in Annapolis, found that the administration’s policies for architectural and engineering contracts did not provide the necessary safeguards to ensure that they were being complied with properly, failed to document why the maximum values of contracts were submitted to the public works board and failed to verify costs previously paid on architecture and engineering work, according to the report.

The Board of Public Works has approved each of the modifications and extensions on the contracts, and the state has added a new internal auditor to make certain correct procedures are followed, highway officials said.

The Office of Legislative Audits report said similar problems had been found in a previous special audit of the agency, dated July 1, 2011.

According to the current audit, the SHA awarded 152 contracts to 73 firms for architectural and engineering work at a cost of $431 million from August 2008 through June 2011.

“These agencies have to do a better job overseeing these service contracts,” said Thomas J. Barnickel III, acting legislative auditor.

The State Highway Administration also used unexpended funds from numerous architectural and engineering contracts to pay for projects not in the original contract, without getting Board of Public Works approval, a violation of state regulations, Barnickel said.

Since the latest finding, the SHA has taken the contracts back to the Board of Public Works for review and approval, officials said.

Auditors also criticized the State Highway Administration for receiving just one bid to establish a pilot program for speed cameras in work zones and then issuing the permanent contract to the company.

State Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-Dist. 36) of Elkton said too often state agencies award “big-ticket” contracts to sole-source bidders.

State Highway Administrator Melinda B. Peters said the agency has studied ways to obtain more bids for projects. “We agreed we would be looking at our procurements going forward,” she said.

The speed cameras resulted in 133,620 violations being spotted from August 2009, when the devices were first used, through the nine-month pilot program, but just 56 percent of those resulted in tickets because of reliability concerns related to the use of radar-based cameras intended for single traffic lanes instead of major highways. The audit report said the state missed out on more than $850,000 in potential fines from the $40 citations.

That pilot program led to the state going with a laser-based system instead, which has improved reliability, Peters said. Now, 90 percent of violators are issued tickets, she said.

The speed cameras have been successful because the goal was not to increase revenue but to slow drivers and decrease accident rates in work zones, Peters said.

cford@gazette.net