Inspector general raps Chicago Transportation Department

January 06, 2014

Source: Crain’s Chicago Business

Outgoing CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein. Photo credit: City of Chicago.

Outgoing CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein. Photo credit: City of Chicago.

The city agency in charge of keeping Chicago’s streets open and moving failed to meet its own performance standards much of the time and somehow managed to exaggerate how well it did. But the agency claims to be doing better now.

So says Chicago Inspector General Joseph Ferguson in a report issued today that takes some pretty good whacks at the Chicago Department of Transportation.

In the report covering 2010 through 2012, Mr. Ferguson says the department, known as CDOT, generally met its goals for repairing broken stop signs and traffic lights and filling pavement cave-ins within the promised one- to three-day periods.

But CDOT came up well short in fixing potholes and streetlights, the report said, with 26 percent of potholes not filled within the seven-day period the city shoots for and at least 24 percent of streetlights not repaired within the four-day target.

Arguably worse is that CDOT ended up giving the public “inaccurate or incomplete” details on how it was doing.

The department is under orders from Mayor Rahm Emanuel to regularly report on its performance, but it omitted 53 percent of the service requests received in 2012 from the weekly performance index posted on its website. In fact, in the final weeks of 2012, CDOT abruptly stopped posting any new data at all.

The department blamed the first problem on a system design error and suggested the second probably was due to a job change by a key staffer who had been posting data manually. But the combination meant that, between May and December 2012 (see page 19 of the audit), potholes that were supposed to be filled in seven days and were reported as being generally filled in three generally took at least 10 days and sometimes as much as 15.

In a statement, Mr. Ferguson seemed to go out of his way to put the best spin on the findings.

“While our audit identified performance and reporting issues that warrant corrective action, we were very glad to find CDOT engaged in proactive and meaningful self-measurement, something we have found lacking in many other city departments,” Mr. Ferguson said. CDOT “took immediate actions to fix these errors,” including launching an independent performance tracking tool on its website. But the report itself suggests that the full value of those tweaks has yet to be proven.

CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein, whom Mr. Emanuel recruited here from Washington, recently left his post. His successor is Chicago Transit Authority exec Rebekah Scheinfeld.

Follow Greg on Twitter at @GregHinz.