Audit criticizes UDOT for 109 signs improperly installed on a Utah road

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SALT LAKE CITY -- A new audit is critical of Utah's Department of Transportation for not exercising more oversight of road contractors.

A pair of audits were presented to the Utah State Legislature's Audit Subcommittee on Tuesday, making a number of recommendations for UDOT, which has a budget that can exceed $1 billion in a year, depending on the road project. One was critical of the agency for a lack of quality control on some projects.

For example, the audit claims there were 109 signs installed improperly along State Route 36 going in and out of Tooele. The signs have a breakaway joint that's supposed to be installed 2.5 inches from a concrete base, so that if a car hits it there's less risk of injury. In the case of the signs along SR-36, auditors found the joint was 11 inches from the base.

Signs along State Route 36 near Stansbury Park. (Image by Todd Gilbert, FOX 13 News)

Signs along State Route 36 near Stansbury Park. (Image by Todd Gilbert, FOX 13 News)

Auditors said UDOT's quality control should have caught the problems before more than 100 signs were installed. The agency said Thursday that the original project wasn't even complete, and insisted taxpayers were not on the hook for any fixes.

Along Bangerter Highway, auditors found a dozen signs with problems. One sign that was supposed to be 12 feet from a roadway for safety reasons was just a few feet from the white line on the road. UDOT countered that the unique design of the highway made it difficult to put a sign in the proper place.

"We learned from this," UDOT Executive Director Carlos Braceras told FOX 13. "We're going to develop new standards for a Bangerter-type of facility as opposed to an interstate."

The Office of the Legislative Auditor General also looked at UDOT's books, pointing out the agency passes on $126 million to cities and counties for road maintenance, but doesn't follow up to see if the money is properly spent. There was no evidence the money was misspent, auditors pointed out.

A sign along the Bangerter Highway that auditors claim is too close to the road and has been hit by trucks. (Image courtesy the Office of the Legislative Auditor General)

A sign along the Bangerter Highway that auditors claim is too close to the road and has been hit by trucks. (Image courtesy the Office of the Legislative Auditor General)

Some lawmakers still had concerns about the potential for abuse.

"We're talking about a lot of money here," House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said. "UDOT is a big agency in terms of the money that flows through them."

Auditors also pointed out that UDOT has begun using more consultants and contractors for work, leaving full time jobs vacant. The legislature's auditor general said a consultant can cost three times more than UDOT simply hiring a full time employee with salary and benefits.

A photo by the Office of Legislative Auditor General shows where an improperly installed sign was placed along the Bangerter Highway, creating a safety hazard.

A photo by the Office of Legislative Auditor General shows where an improperly installed sign was placed along the Bangerter Highway, creating a safety hazard.

Braceras pushed back on that, pointing out that hiring a consultant to do one job is more cost-effective than a full time employee.

"This is an area where we take a bit of an exception to what the auditors looked at," he said, adding that they weren't looking at the full picture.

In another instance, auditors claimed UDOT didn't make enough use of state airplanes.

"The audit identified a few areas where we can make improvements, but overall when you look at the size of the agency and the amount of projects we have going, I think if we're talking about these things overall, we're doing an excellent job," he said.

Read the audit here:

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