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Street cut follow-up audit shows progress on repairs

Tuesday, March 1, 2022 by Jo Clifton

When a team from the Office of the City Auditor examined street cuts in 2017, they found a significant backlog in repairing the damaged areas left behind on streets when utility work is done by the city. Those damaged streets have been a concern both for city management and the general public.

Last week, a new report from the auditors found Austin Public Works and Austin Water had made significant progress in eliminating repair backlogs.

Olga Ovcharenko, who managed the audit, told the City Council Audit and Finance Committee last Wednesday that Public Works followed three recommendations, including expanding the use of contracted services and reallocating sources from within the department to reduce the repair backlog. According to the report, in March 2021, the Public Works utility excavation repair team completed 73 percent of the total 411 repairs for that month.

Although the department greatly reduced the street cut backlog, auditors found that some street repairs were still not being addressed “for a significant amount of time.”

According to a report for fiscal years 2017 to 2021, Public Works had a backlog of 3,000 locations needing permanent repairs in January 2017. This was down to 836 locations by October 2021. However, 59 percent of these locations had not been repaired for a long time (ranging from 90 to over 366 days).

The report noted that the Covid-19 pandemic had impacted the department’s ability to address the backlog.

Auditors reported that Austin Water had created a new project coordinator position that was tasked with helping develop procedures, inspecting work and training staff on utility work completion. The department also developed standard operating procedures for temporary patch repairs and established inspection requirements for those repairs.

Austin Water entered into a service agreement with Public Works in May 2021. The water utility also plans to start up an in-house crew to perform temporary utility cut repairs, according to the report.

Public Works Director Richard Mendoza told the committee his department had been working much more closely with Austin Water. He concluded by saying, “Our goal going forward is to maintain no more than a 90-day backlog.”

In response to a question from Mayor Pro Tem Alison Alter, who chairs the committee, Mendoza said there will always be a repair backlog.

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