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Paint Disposal, Project Procedures at Issue

Thursday, September 1, 2016

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The Texas Department of Transportation is facing scrutiny on two fronts this month: improper paint disposal in one of its districts and a state audit suggesting that its design-build program for bridge and highway work lacks adequate guidelines.

Allegations of illegal paint disposal were brought to light when the local ABC affiliate reported Monday (Aug. 29) that, during cleanup of a TxDOT facility in the northeastern region of the state, two workers allegedly decided to bury unused paint on the property, rather than dispose of it by accepted methods.

Labels advise users to dispose of unused paint according to local, state and federal regulations, and in Hopkins County, where the burial occurred, improper disposal of this type of material is illegal, the station explained.

paint for recycling
© / Jeffrey Heyden-Kaye

Two TxDOT employees allegedly made the decision to bury old paint on the Hopkins County facility property, a practice which is illegal according to local regulations.

Meanwhile, the Texas State Auditor’s Office issued a report last week indicating that its audit of selected design-build contracts for major transportation projects showed that a lack of procedural clarity could end up costing taxpayers, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Burying the Evidence

“On Aug. 17, two of our employees were cleaning up around the Hopkins County maintenance facility, they found some partially dried out water-based latex paint and they buried it to dispose of it,” TxDOT Public Information Officer Tim McAlavy explained.  

Six days later, those responsible reported what had happened, KLTV indicated, prompting safety officials from the county, the Environmental Protection Agency and TxDOT to disinter the waste and send it off for testing.

Officials reportedly want to be sure the water-based paint was the only material underground during a week that the area saw rain and possible runoff, although they do not believe there is any risk to nearby residents.

“We’ll have to get those soil tests, analysis tests back to see if any of this paint got into the ground,” McAlavy told the station.

Hopkins County environmental officer Jim Dial noted that paint should be completely dried out before is thrown away.

“Regardless of whether this is a major hazmat or not, it just cannot be disposed of in that manner,” said Dial. “It’s got to be allowed to dry. It is a crime, to dispose of it improperly.”

McAlavy said the agency is waiting on the soil analysis results before it addresses any penalties the TxDOT employees may face.

Design-Build Scrutiny

Texas has about a dozen large projects—representing $8 billion in road spending since September 2012—that have been or will be built through design-build contracts, the Chronicle reported.

Corpus Christi Harbor Bridge
By Mglsndst1993 / CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Harbor Bridge in Corpus Christi was among the four projects reviewed by the Texas State Auditor’s Office in its analysis of the transportation department's policies and procedures for design-build projects.

Design-build is an increasingly common project delivery system in the construction industry in which the design, engineering, planning and construction services are contracted by a single entity known as the design–builder or design–build contractor. This system is said to streamline the construction process by overlapping the design and construction phases of a project and touts a single point of contractual responsibility.

The auditor’s report doesn’t disagree with the concept that the design-build system move projects more quickly and less expensively; however, it does find fault with TxDOT’s internal oversight of the procurement and bidding process, the newspaper said.

Because the audit determined there is no written policy about how to handle changes to a design-build project, it suggests that the costs of the project could grow from what is initially specified.

For example, during the bid process for one upcoming project, the extension of the Grand Parkway, the agency reportedly changed the number of lanes required while bids were still being collected.

“Without a consistent, documented process establishing when design-build projects should be re-procured due to the nature and extent of changes to the project, there is an increased risk that a procurement may not be transparent and that (TxDOT) may not receive best value,” the audit noted.

“Specifically, the potentially significant changes to a project’s design and maintenance plan could garner additional interest from other qualified contractors that initially refrained from participating based on their consideration of the project’s original design scope.”

This was the only one of seven recommendations the state auditor considered a high priority, the Chronicle indicated.

TxDOT spokeswoman Veronica Beyer told the Chronicle, "We appreciate the review from the (auditor) and we will be working to make improvements to our procurement process."

The report includes TxDOT management’s responses to the auditor’s recommendations, indicating how and by what date the agency would implement changes.


Tagged categories: Bidding; Bridges; Business operations; Contractors; Department of Transportation (DOT); Design build; Environmental Protection; Infrastructure; North America; Paint disposal; Program/Project Management; Roads/Highways

Comment from Car F., (9/1/2016, 11:35 AM)

It stands to reason and logic that no employee would attempt to do shortcuts in safety, poor material handling or inferior workmanship, which would report no personal gain whatsoever, unless there is an organizational culture that permits such behaviors, overtly or covertly.

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