Transportation officials should be able to provide much clearer answers about expenditures on the $10 billion* Columbia River Crossing Light Rail project than they do now, according to one frustrated Washington legislator.

Speaking during an earlier meeting of the Washington State House Committee on Transportation in Olympia, Rep. Ed Orcutt (R-Kalama) said providing such information is a “simple question of keeping track of how much money comes in and where it’s spent.”

Ed Orcutt

An irritated Orcutt asked transportation officials who attended the January meeting in Olympia why forensic accountant Tiffany Couch has not been able to get a clear accounting of where the money has gone, despite months of public record requests. Either officials “don’t have the information, aren’t tracking the information properly, or just refuse to give it to her,” Orcutt said. “There are no other possibilities. Which is it?”

He added, “I’m a private business owner and I run into problems (with) mathematical things … I could go to an Excel spreadsheet and figure it out.” Orcutt asked why a computer program can’t produce the information in a timely manner.

Wolf Opitz, assistant treasurer for Washington state, answered that one major problem is the antiquity of the government computers. “This sounds like a budget conversation I’ve had a thousand times,” Opitz said, adding that it would cost in the range of $250 million for the kind of system that would support those requests.

Clearly not mollified, Orcutt shot back, “I could do everything Tiffany was talking about on Excel and I’m a friggin’ idiot when it comes to numbers.”

Couch’s full audio and PowerPoint presentations were published earlier on COUV.COM. Couch gave a 20-minute talk to six members of the 29-person committee, saying that the financial accounting of the Washington State Department of Transportation and the Columbia River Crossing Light Rail project (CRC) are rife with questionable contracting practices, lack of appropriate reporting, discrepancies with task orders, and non-compliance with public records requests.

* The well-documented cost to taxpayers, if the CRC stays on budget, is $10 billion. This was established by the Cortright Report (PDF) which used data from an independent review panel hired by the governors of Washington and Oregon. (View the panel’s final report.)

See our continuing coverage of the Columbia River Crossing Light Rail project.

Do you have information to share on the CRC? To respond anonymously call 260-816-1426. To allow your comments to be used on COUV.COM call 260-816-1429.