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City controller says Pittsburgh's Department of Mobility and Infrastructure needs more staff

Patrick Doyle
90.5 WESA
The audit by City Controller Michael Lamb specifically calls for more inspectors for DOMI’s paving division.

An audit of Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure found that the five-year-old agency is chronically understaffed — and as a result, the city’s paving division is inefficient, and records about projects are incomplete.

“There’s so much work to be done and there’s not enough staff to do it,” said City Controller Michael Lamb, whose office conducted the review, at a press conference Thursday.

The audit is the first such report about the department. The report notes that DOMI was unable to provide records about its early evolution, a lack of institutional memory that Lamb called “concerning.” The audit makes the case that information about how the department took shape could have provided key lessons for the city.

Deanna Garcia
90.5 WESA
City Controller Michael Lamb

“Employee turnover occurs in all places of employment, and without records, there is no concrete evidence of why certain decisions were made at the beginning,” the audit reads.

The audit repeatedly called for increased staff to more efficiently track the condition of streets, keep records and other tasks. Lamb specifically calls for more inspectors for DOMI’s paving division to help the city ensure that paving work is being completed and that records about that work are frequently updated.

In a written response to the audit, DOMI agreed on the need for more staff. The department reported that just nine inspectors performed 50,000 inspections in 2021. DOMI expects to need at least 54,000 inspections this year, not including the workload of handling complaints made to the city's 311 line. Kimberly Lucas, director of the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure, said in the department's response that it “desperately” needs additional staff.

Lamb emphasized the need specifically for more design and engineering staff Thursday. But according to Lucas, “nearly every division of our department is understaffed.” As an example, Lucas said the department has one traffic signal engineer monitoring more than 600 intersections. The Federal Highway Administration recommends the city employ six such engineers —one per every 100 signals— Lucas said.

Another problem born out of the current staff capacity, Lamb argued, is poor record keeping and reporting. The audit found that the department doesn’t consistently record data about paving projects in the tracking software used by the city. The department keeps track of which streets have been paved in a spreadsheet that is separate from where it tracks work done by utility companies as part of their maintenance work. Lamb argues this data should be kept alongside the city’s records of which streets DOMI has repaved.

Lamb said that if DOMI better used the city’s record-keeping software for paving, it could create a more efficient paving schedule. Currently, money for resurfacing is split evenly among Pittsburgh’s nine City Council districts. Lamb argues this policy prevents the department from prioritizing the worst streets.

“Everyone wants to get their fair share for their neighborhoods, but we really need to do a better job of making sure that the streets that need to be paved, get paved,” Lamb said. “Sometimes that means looking beyond the arbitrary lines of a council district.”

Lamb said Thursday that street paving efforts were also impacted by inflation and oil prices. “By some estimates, we could probably pave two or three miles less than we were intending to pave,” Lamb said. He noted Thursday that City Council may have to allocate more money to help DOMI complete its 2022 paving list.

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The audit also found that DOMI has not regularly updated City Council about the progress of the city’s “Complete Streets” initiative. Complete Streets is a policy designed to design a road network that caters to pedestrians, people with disabilities, bicyclists, transit riders, motorists and freight carriers.

“Their reports that they’re required to do and send to council every year, they haven’t been doing,” Lamb said Thursday.

In DOMI’s response, Lucas rejected that claim, saying the department fulfills its reporting obligations during the city's annual budgeting process. “We would like to know more about any additional reporting that may be required," Lucas added.

The controller’s office repeatedly recommends adding more staff as a solution to the problems laid out in the audit. In DOMI’s response, Lucas noted plans for the department to request more staff during the upcoming budget season.

According to Lamb, DOMI’s 2020 budget was $5.8 million with 97 positions. There were 17 vacancies at the end of 2020, the audit found.

On Thursday, Lamb said Mayor Ed Gainey will have to determine whether adding inspectors and other staff is best done by adding full-time workers or contracting more work out to third-party companies. And neither he nor DOMI specified the number of hires the department needed

“We just know that there’s a lot of work that needs to be done," Lamb said, "and right now they do not have the personnel or contracting resources to pull it all together.”

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.