(Texas) — Fox 4 has uncovered allegations of government waste, bad roads and a possible cover-up at the Texas Department of Transportation.
The allegation involves liquid asphalt used to resurface roadways in Texas.
Fox 4’s investigation started with a tip from an insider. The tipster was sick and tired of the government waste at the Texas Department of Transportation and told Fox 4 to check out what was going on under a bridge in Johnson County.
To a passerby, the TxDOT crew appeared hard at work. Fox 4 watched the workers for hours one June afternoon. The insider told Fox the agency had wasted thousands of gallons of liquid asphalt because TxDOT had not used the product before it went bad. Now, the agency needed to get rid of it and the bad product wasn’t just in one county.
“We have had some issues with the material in our Johnson County office,” said Jodi Hodges, Public Information Supervisor of the Fort Worth District office.
“After further review, it appears one of our tanks has malfunctioned.”
Hodges assured Fox 4 it was just a heater problem involving one batch in one surplus tank that stores liquid asphalt, in one county.
“So it is just an issue in Johnson County and that’s it?” Reporter Becky Oliver asked.
“Yes,” Hodges responded.
But TxDOT’s own internal emails and memos paint a very different picture.
A memo dated June 11, 2012 indicates TxDOT had a problem. It states, “10,000 gallons” of liquid asphalt had become “useless to the district” because the state purchased it but didn’t use it and it sat for years.
The material was in “two tanks” in “two separate maintenance facilities.” Three thousand seven hundred was in Johnson county and another 6,400 gallons in Tarrant County. But Hodges insisted it was only an issue in Johnson County.
“Do you have any of that product being stored, here in Tarrant County at this facility,” asked Oliver.
“Not that I am aware of,” said Hodges.
“Can you show us the tanks? Can we see the gauges on those tanks?” Oliver asked.
“No,” said Hodges.
“Why not?” Oliver asked
“The gauges are not functioning properly. We have determined that,” said Hodges.
“The gauges here in Tarrant County? You just said you didn’t have any of the product in Tarrant County,” Oliver said. “You said you share product with Johnson County but you said none of it was stored here in Tarrant County.”
“Not that I am aware of,” said Hodges.
TxDOT’s emails and memos say the issue now was what to do with all of the useless asphalt. TxDOT’s own lab in Austin confirmed the product was now, “bad” and “didn’t meet specifications.” It would not be used for resurfacing. The state would have to pay an outside specialty contractor to “pump” it out, “transport” it and then “recycle” it, all at the taxpayer’s expense. That was June 11, 2012. Two days later, is when Fox 4 saw the TxDOT crew working near the bridge.
After they left, Fox 4 got out shovels and started digging. Just under the surface Fox 4 found clumps of hardened asphalt. It was in the brush, in the ground and mixed into the dirt.
“I know of no excuse for taking and dumping it under a road, under a bridge,” said State Representative Linda Harper Brown, a Republican from Irving. Brown sits on the transportation committee.
“This is clearly showing that they are not being transparent and they are not accountable to the taxpayers doing things like this,” Brown said. “There are so many road that need to be repaired. These dollars could have been spent on repairing and taking care and improving our roads we have here in the North Texas area.”
TxDOT says the product never went bad, even thought the agency’s own emails and memos call it “bad” and “useless.”
The agency says this particular product has many uses. When we asked what the TxDOT crew was doing under the bridge, the first answer we got was probably laying a seal coat. When TxDOT learned Fox 4 had photos, the answer changed to, “hauled debris” but added the work was “cut short due to rain.”
Fox 4 watched the trucks leave that day and we were out there for several hours. There was no rain.
Fox 4 has since learned, behind the scenes, according to TxDOT’s own emails, the agency was busy trying to figure out how to “mitigate and respond” to our questions.
TxDOT maintains the liquid asphalt is now being mixed with recycled asphalt and will be used for shoulder work.
“How exactly does that work,” asked Oliver
“I don’t know. I am not a scientist,” Hodges said.
“But you are the public relations person who is supposed to be answering our questions today,” said Oliver
“The engineers have told me that the product is recyclable in other forms,” said Hodges.
We asked the state office in Austin about all the conflicting answers we were getting from Fort Worth. TxDOT said Fox 4 rushed the agency to do the interview but Fox 4 never called TxDOT for an interview. The agency called Fox 4.
The Fort Worth office later released a statement stating, “None of the allegations can be substantiated. More importantly, no material has been wasted and no improper behavior has occurred.”
“It is a sad situation when we cannot depend on the officials to give us the truth,” said Brown. Clearly this appears to have been a cover up and I think that is wrong. That is just terribly wrong.”
Brown says she is all too familiar with the controversies and troubles at TxDOT. In March, the agency found an extra 2 billion dollars in the agency budget. Lawmakers were quick to criticize TxDOT and questioned just how the agency was managing its money.
And when most agencies are cutting back salaries, this year TxDOT gave its top executives a 42 percent pay increase.