Audit: King County Metro struggling with meeting project deadlines
Jul 18, 2023, 3:03 PM | Updated: Jul 19, 2023, 6:27 am
(Photo by Joe A. Kunzler/Flickr)
King County Metro consistently fails to meet deadlines on significant capital projects, leading to extended deadlines and delays as well as the department going over budget, according to the Auditor’s Office.
The Auditor’s Office determined this after analyzing King County Metro’s effectiveness and efficiency when dealing with infrastructure projects costing $1 million or more from 2016 to 2022. The findings were presented in an audit report on July 18 for the King County Council’s Transportation, Economy and Environment Committee.
“Metro Transit’s ability to put transportation infrastructure in place is directly linked to the effectiveness of the County’s transit system and its impact on the environment,” King County Auditor Kymber Waltmunson wrote in a prepared statement. “We are encouraged that Metro Transit has agreed to implement all of our recommendations.”
Among King County Metro’s long-term projects, Metro Connects is at the forefront with a simple goal: Make buses come more often, take you farther, and drop you off faster. Metro Connects looks to increase service by more than 70% by 2050, according to its 2021 Long-Range Plan, to pair alongside the West Seattle and Ballard Link extensions.
“Metro Connects is an intentionally unconstrained vision, reflecting the imagination and input of many stakeholders and partners,” King County Metro wrote regarding the project. “Metro Connects is ambitious, expensive, and only partially funded, with the 2050 network expected to cost more than $28 billion in capital expenses and require more than seven million annual service hours. Metro cannot do this alone. Metro, elected leaders, regional partners, and communities must work together to secure additional regional funding and partner on projects and improvements.”
Tangentially, King County Metro is one of the earliest adopters of creating an all-electric bus fleet. Metro has stated it is moving to a 100% zero-emissions fleet powered by renewable energy by 2035.
But, according to the audit, King County Metro possesses gaps in specific areas of operations that hinder the speed of completing such expansive projects. The Auditor’s Office flagged the department’s lack of estimation standards, not tailoring its processes to the variety of Metro Transit’s capital projects, and failing to collect and record the processes involved in past projects to analyze the mistakes made as some of King County Metro’s most immediate issues.
“Metro Transit has overestimated how much capital work it can complete and gaps in management practices do not yet include proactive ways to address project delays, creating missed opportunities to improve schedule performance,” the report read. “Metro Transit has missed its projected biennium spending on capital projects by at least 33% since the 2017–18 biennium.”
However, the audit made sure to mention Metro Transit leadership is aware of these issues and has implemented new initiatives dating back to 2019 to improve its capital planning and delivery processes since transitioning from a division to a department.
“Project delays occur when planners and project managers have to wait for staffing resources to start projects,” the audit continued. “This happens when there is more planned work than available staff.”
King County’s 2023–24 budget includes $1.6 billion in investments for public transportation infrastructure over its six-year planning period, almost 25% of the $7 billion total.
The Auditor’s Office concluded its report with 19 recommendations, which include developing management accountability processes, aligning future Capital Improvement Programs and program timelines with staff capacity, creating standardized budget and schedule estimates for projects, implementing mechanisms for management to review lessons learned, and increasing lines of communication between departments.
“I am grateful for the collaborative approach used by the audit staff through this process,” King County Executive Dow Constantine wrote after the audit was concluded. “The audit team was consistently open to working with the Metro Capital team to determine what data was available, timelines for responses, and modifying questions to better align with available information. As a result, Metro fully concurs on all 19 audit recommendations.”