The Maryland State Highway Administration failed to properly oversee the company that operates speed cameras in construction zones, one of eight problems with the agency’s fiscal management, an audit found.
The agency, which is responsible for maintaining all non-toll, numbered roads in Maryland, also failed to ensure that payments to snow- and ice-removal contractors were proper, and did not do enough to prevent snowplows, tires and other equipment from being stolen from district offices, according to the audit.
Additionally, the SHA failed to properly protect the security of its computers and didn’t ensure that the state was reimbursed for damage done to bridges, traffic signals and other state property in traffic crashes, the audit said.
The review was part of a regular “fiscal compliance audit” that the state’s Office of Legislative Audits is required to do of all state agencies at least every four years. The office is part of the Department of Legislative Services, which provides staff support for the General Assembly.
The SHA audit, which covered August 2014 through June 2017, found eight “significant deficiencies” that could hurt SHA’s ability to maintain reliable financial records, operate efficiently and comply with state laws and regulations, according to the report.
In a written response, SHA officials said they agreed with all of the auditors’ recommendations and listed steps they had taken to address the problems.
SHA spokeswoman Lora Rakowski said the agency welcomed the audit “as we constantly strive to strengthen and improve our programs, procedures and business practices,” and took “immediate action” to follow the recommendations.
Rakowski said the SHA had made some improvements before the audit’s release, including installing cameras and card readers for additional security at SHA facilities and improving billing for state property damage caused by traffic crashes.
The finding that most affects motorists involved a $28.6 million contract with a company that operates speed cameras in work zones.
Auditors said the SHA didn’t do enough to ensure that the company, which wasn’t named, abided by contract requirements designed to follow speed-camera laws. Those requirements include having a trained operator in the camera-mounted vehicle when the camera is being used and proper road signs to warn motorists of photo enforcement in an area.
For example, auditors said, they couldn’t find documents to show that the agency had inspected 10 of the state’s 18 work zones with speed cameras in the first six months of 2017.
AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John Townsend said he found the audit’s conclusions about the speed camera program “troubling.”
Townsend said the motorist advocacy group has heard complaints from drivers who said they got a speeding ticket when no one appeared to be in the camera-mounted vehicle. Others complained of not seeing any road signs warning of cameras in the area. Both of those legal requirements, Townsend said, make Maryland a “national model” for speed-camera enforcement to make construction zones safer.
However, Townsend said, the audit shows that the program needs “more oversight, transparency and integrity.”
“When people lose confidence in the program, you have a serious problem,” he said. “You don’t want to have a loose rein on your vendor, especially when your vendor has a $28 million contract.”
In their response, SHA officials said they have implemented new procedures for how often speed-camera sites should be inspected and how SHA staffers should document what they find.