The state Legislature’s Joint Audit Committee on Tuesday voted to introduce a bill incorporating the recommendations of a recent Legislative Audit Bureau report on the state highway program.

The audit released in January concluded that the state Department of Transportation routinely failed to take into account the extent to which major highway project expenditures increased over time because of inflation and unexpected cost increases.

“As a result, DOT anticipated completing more major highway project work than could be completed with available funding,” the Audit Bureau report said.

The report also said the DOT didn’t use its own performance measures to manage and improve its operations.

Although DOT saved $26.9 million over a 10-year study period by controlling its engineering costs, it could have saved another $6.6 million by following its performance measure more consistently, the audit found.

The audit found ways the DOT could have saved as much as $42.4 million a year.

The bill introduced Tuesday would require the DOT to

+ include its its semiannual reports the cost estimates DOT provided when it enumerated each project;

+ provide the Legislature with cost estimates that include all costs associated with potential major highway projects and regularly report information about ongoing costs of each major project;

+ take into account the results of cost-benefit analyses; and

+ use the construction manager-general contractor method to complete a limited number of projects.

“This was a very consequential audit that points out a number of problems,” said committee co-chairman Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay. He said it makes sense to pass the recommended legislative actions “sooner than later.”

The vote to introduce the bill followed a three-hour public hearing at the state Capitol.

“The findings of the report are disturbing and must be addressed,” state Rep. Joel Kitchens, R-Sturgeon Bay, said in a statement after the audit was released. “The department has chronically underestimated the true costs of projects and not taken into account the increase in costs when project delays occur. We must do a better job of budgeting for our highway projects and then we must live within those budgets.”