Comptroller Stringer Audit Reveals DOT’s Shoddy Maintenance of Street Name Signs
Three years after Comptroller Stringer recommended needed reforms, DOT still lacks a complete inventory of the City’s 250,000 street name signs and has no comprehensive plan to identify the signs that need repair and replacement.
Follow-up audit reveals that DOT still lacks a standard procedure to investigate and address, reasonably promptly, thousands of complaints New Yorkers submit through 311.
Comptroller Stringer calls for a streamlined system, recommends that the DOT ensure service request numbers are appropriately exported to an online database so that it can track and report complaint dispositions.
New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer released a follow-up audit of the Department of Transportation (DOT), which revealed the agency’s persistently inadequate oversight of the installation and maintenance of street name signs. DOT failed to implement several recommendations from Comptroller Stringer’s prior audit, issued in 2017 — including that it develop a complete inventory of street name signs throughout the City and a comprehensive plan for identifying those that need repair and replacement, and that it ensure that complaints filed through the City’s 311 service are investigated and addressed in a reasonable time frame.
The Comptroller’s audit also revealed that DOT still lacks a concrete plan to implement those needed reforms. Auditors found, for example, that DOT failed to address 46 of 50 sampled 311 complaints it received in July 2017 and January 2018 timely. DOT’s continuing failure to address 311 complaints promptly means that New Yorkers may never know whether the problems they report resulted in action. This issue is of even greater concern because DOT primarily relies on complaints to identify issues involving street name signs. Of the 5,574 street sign complaints DOT received between July 2017 and February 2019, the overwhelming majority—5,187 complaints—came through the 311 service.
“Our streets form the physical foundation and framework of our city, and move millions of people and goods throughout the five boroughs every day. If we want New Yorkers to get around efficiently, we need reliable corridors that are clearly marked,” said New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer. “Structurally sound street signs are imperative for maximizing safety and efficiency in our streets, and keeping New York City functioning and running smoothly. The DOT is dragging its feet on making necessary upgrades to its system for installing and maintaining street name signs. Consequently, its program remains riddled with deficiencies, as progress on recommendations I made three years ago lags far behind. What New York City needs and all New Yorkers deserve is accountability and a streamlined, thoughtfully planned system to identify, track, and fix defective street name signs and address all complaints in a timely manner.”
Comptroller Stringer conducted an audit in 2017 that found significant deficiencies in DOT’s maintenance efforts and tracking system and made six recommendations to address the weaknesses found. Of the six prior audit recommendations, DOT implemented one recommendation—that it ensure that work orders are approved before being sent to the contractor. DOT also partially implemented a recommendation that it continue its efforts to develop a methodology for tracking and documenting intersections where street name sign surveys have been conducted.
However, DOT did not implement the four remaining recommendations:
Take steps to identify and document its full inventory of standard street name signs throughout the City;
Develop a comprehensive plan for conducting surveys to identify street name signs that need to be repaired and replaced throughout the City;
Establish protocols to ensure that 311 complaints are investigated and addressed in a reasonable time frame;
Establish time standards for addressing street name sign repairs/replacements once the need has been identified and regularly monitor how well it is meeting those standards.
As a result of DOT’s failure to implement the Comptroller’s recommendations, delays continue to affect its installation and maintenance of street name signs. For example, in a sample of 309 work orders, the Comptroller’s auditors found that:
On average 125 business days (ranging from 70 to 765 business days) elapsed between the date a DOT inspector prepared a work order and the date a DOT director approved it for assignment to a DOT contractor to repair or replace a street name sign.
It took DOT an average of 213 days (ranging from 116 days to more than 3 years) to complete a work order—from the date a DOT survey found that a sign needed repair or replacement to the date DOT verified that its contractor completed the job.
While examining the implementation status of the previous recommendations, Comptroller Stringer identified additional weaknesses in DOT’s controls over street name sign installations. Specifically, the audit found that the complaints DOT received through the 311 service were not consistently recorded and mapped in its Geographic Information System (GIS) database. The audit also found that 35 of 50 sampled complaints were recorded in the GIS database without service request numbers.
Based on the audit, Comptroller Stringer made the following recommendations:
DOT should take steps to (1) identify and document its complete inventory of standard street name signs throughout the City and (2) develop protocols to periodically update its records to reflect changes in a timely manner.
DOT should develop a comprehensive plan for conducting surveys to identify street name signs that need to be repaired or replaced throughout the City, and regularly monitor its implementation of that plan.
DOT should establish procedures to ensure that 311 complaints regarding street name signs are investigated and addressed in a reasonable time frame.
DOT should develop a system to track intersections that it surveys using its web-based system where it finds that no work is needed.
DOT should establish time standards for addressing street name sign repairs and replacements once the need for them has been identified, and regularly monitor how well it is meeting those standards.
DOT should strengthen its controls over the mapping process to ensure that the GIS database is regularly updated to include all complaints the agency receives through the 311 system and ensure that the GIS database is regularly reviewed for completeness and accuracy in reflecting the status of all such complaints and the corresponding surveys and work orders.
DOT should ensure that service request numbers are appropriately exported to the GIS map so that it can track and report complaint dispositions.