Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Home / Commercial Construction / Bill to do away with highway cost comparisons stalls (UPDATE)

Bill to do away with highway cost comparisons stalls (UPDATE)

By Adam Wise

Legislation that would eliminate the need for the state to conduct a cost comparison of highway project engineer work went to bed in the Senate Tuesday night with an uncertain future.

Senate Bill 499 would eliminate a requirement that the state Department of Transportation conduct a cost-benefit analysis prior to outsourcing highway engineer work, and instead require WisDOT to conduct an annual study that provides actual costs of department engineers and consultants.

The CBAs are worksheets WisDOT project managers complete on highway projects of more than $25,000 during the early estimation phase. Mandated since 2006, the worksheets are supposed to identify the least costly hiring route for the department to perform its projects.

But the bill, which was scheduled for consideration in the Senate and Assembly on Tuesday, hit a snag in the Senate when the Republican majority failed to successfully table an amendment from a Democrat.

State Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, introduced an amendment to the bill Tuesday that would still create an annual report, but save the worksheets with the intent of improving what she feels is a flawed formula.

After several Democrats supported Lassa’s amendment, Republicans sought to table the measure to continue toward passage, but state Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay, voted against his party. The failed attempt to table sent Lassa, Cowles, and the bill’s co-author, Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, to side negotiations to find a compromise.

The Senate delayed more action on the bill and eventually entered recess around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday with no clear answer on the bill’s future.

The Senate is scheduled to reconvene at 10 a.m. Wednesday, while the Assembly, which had spent much of the day in partisan caucus, was scheduled to take up its version of bill yet Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.

Lassa said she was unsure what would happen to the Senate version, saying negotiations toward a compromise were ongoing.

She said she’s still trying to save the worksheets, and expects any amendment to increase the threshold of when worksheets would be completed from the currently established $25,000. She wouldn’t disclose what amount she is seeking in an amendment.

Claims that the CBAs lack accuracy in projecting the costs of consultants were supported in a 2009 Legislative Audit Bureau study. The report stated Wisconsin spent $36 million in 2007-08 on construction management consultant engineers, while during that same time frame, the worksheets estimated the work would cost $44.7 million.

WisDOT administrators have supported the proposed switch from a cost estimate before a project to analyzing costs in a yearly report. WisDOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb was the state representative in 2005 who introduced the legislation that created the worksheets.

Steven Krieser, the department’s executive assistant, said WisDOT can use the annual report to make long-term staffing recommendations to the Legislature. The department, since April, has been hiring about 100 engineers with the intent to reduce the division’s vacancy rate from 17 to 5 percent by the end of this month.

“The CBAs are happening at a point at which, by definition, is an educated guess, nothing more — and that’s not useful,” he said.

But state Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said Lazich’s proposal puts the cart before the horse.

“The road builders and those engineers love this, and I can’t blame them for registering in support,” Erpenbach said. “We’re just going to hand out contracts, period, and just come back after the fact to see if it was worth it?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *