The audit found the Executive Office of Transportation relied on a “one-week snapshot summary period” during peak construction season to conclude that replacing police details with flaggers would save between $5.7 million and $7.2 million annually, or $157,632 per week.
According to the report, that weekly estimate was overstated by $18,980, or between $685,000 and $850,000 a year.
The audit also found that the Patrick administration underestimated the cost to business of employing civilian flagmen, which may offset some of the estimated savings.
In another finding, the audit states that the Patrick administration failed to consider certain “safety factors” such as high traffic volume or proximity to schools, which may have forced employers to hire additional personnel, including police details.
The report offered fodder to both sides of an issue that has prompted loud protests from unions who argue that police details are essential for public safety and counter-protests from the administration, budget hawks and the talk radio crowd who say costly police details are an example of government waste. The findings give the Patrick administration license to point to demonstrable savings, if somewhat reduced.
Massachusetts Highway Commissioner Luisa Paiewonsky said the administration is “seeing a lot of … common ground” with the auditor's report.
“I think the biggest savings, by far, will come from our ability to manage the number of people in the work zone,” she said.
Paiewonsky said there is unlikely to be a shortage of flaggers, even as federal infrastructure funds lead to more and more construction projects breaking ground. “We haven't seen any shortfall of flaggers,” she said. “We believe that the supply will expand with the demand as it has with the contracting.
MassHighway's been in a growth mode for the last few years.” The audit also warned that as the construction industry sheds jobs in a down economy, flaggers who find themselves unemployed may add a new strain on the state's Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. Paiewonsky said that the state's road and bridge repair programs are “not going away” and would still require large numbers of flaggers.
On Tuesday afternoon the Patrick administration announced four new federally funded highway projects were going out to bid at a total cost of $12.5 million. The projects include resurfacing Route 6A in Barnstable, resurfacing Route 2 in Concord, resurfacing Route 7 in New Ashford and Lanesborough and making safety improvements to the Scenic Byway on Routes 10 and 63 in Northfield.
The Massachusetts Republican Party was quick to pounce on the audit's finding that cost-savings were overstated, describing it as the latest incident in a “history of wild claims and inaccurate statements” by the Patrick administration. “
This is no surprise coming from an administration that has governed by sound bite and press release. Because the Patrick administration didn't do it's homework on police details, they are undercutting attempts to reform state government,” said MassGOP executive director Nick Connors, in a statement. “If Governor Patrick was actually committed to detail reform, then the Commonwealth would have joined the other 49 states that currently do not use police details at all. Governor Patrick should stop playing fiscal shell games with our tax dollars and commit to completely eliminating police details across Massachusetts.”
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