By Taylor W. Anderson

The Bulletin

SALEM — Oregon, we have liftoff.

After spending the better part of a year trying to get an audit of the Oregon Department of Transportation off the ground, the state has chosen a contractor to dig into the agency and send its findings to the Legislature by March, just as lawmakers will try to launch a major roads funding bill.

Oregon chose the New York-based firm McKinsey & Co., which comes with a nearly $1 million price tag, after two false starts.

Digging into the agency is central to the effort to pass a road-funding package when the Legislature convenes in February because some lawmakers say they don’t see how they could support a transportation proposal without an independent audit of the $3.7 billion agency.

While Gov. Kate Brown called for a full, independent review of the agency last November, the state has struggled even to pick a contractor for the job.

The newest contract is nearly three times more expensive than one initially offered to John L. Craig Consulting this summer.

Craig’s bid was rejected after officials learned he sent an email to Oregon Transportation Commission Chairwoman Tammy Baney indicating he was interested in replacing the agency’s longtime director, Matt Garrett.

Craig, former director of Kentucky’s transportation department, also managed a billion-dollar bridge replacement program for ODOT.

Before that, the state picked a Pennsylvania-based consultant but quickly backed off in the hopes of getting more applicants for the contract.

Brown and Baney, who is also a Deschutes County commissioner, created a committee of transportation experts and former legislators to oversee the auditing effort. The committee apparently doesn’t exist anymore.

“I have heard absolutely nothing,” said Vicki Berger, a former legislator who is on the committee. “It’s dead to me now, if you will.”

Brown on Aug. 11 told Susan Morgan, a Transportation Commission commissioner who chaired the committee, that the Department of Administrative Services would take over the process. Bryan Hockaday, Brown’s spokesman, said in an email Thursday the committee had concluded its work.

— Reporter: 406-589-4347,