DOT's massive shortfall prompts hiring of outside auditor

ATLANTA — Gov. Sonny Perdue said Wednesday he’s asked for an outside audit of the Georgia Department of Transportation amid evidence that the state has promised about $1 billion more in transportation contracts than it can afford.

The financial mess is likely to bring some road projects to a halt.

‘‘There is a smell that’s not very pleasant about what’s happening and what’s being found there,’’ Perdue told reporters of the state DOT.

Transportation Commissioner Gena Abraham cautioned that the shortfall numbers are preliminary. But she said the financial picture at the agency she took over just a few months ago is not good.

‘‘We’ve promised a lot more projects than we can possibly deliver,’’ Abraham said.

The department will look at all 9,000 road and infrastructure projects it has on the books and prioritize which ones should move forward.

Transportation dollars have not kept up with population growth in booming metro Atlanta. Studies have ranked Atlanta traffic as the second-worst in the nation, and state business leaders have worried it could harm economic growth by discouraging business from locating in Georgia.

State lawmakers took on the issue this year. They had reached agreement on a plan under which local governments could band together into regional districts. Those districts could then seek voter approval to levy a one-cent sales tax increase for transportation projects in that region.

The proposal passed the House on Friday but fell three votes short of the needed two-thirds majority in the Senate just minutes before the legislative session came to a close. It was being backed by the state’s powerful business lobby.

But Perdue didn’t like the plan. He has said that until the Department of Transportation resolves its fiscal problems, he cannot ask Georgians to funnel more money its way.

‘‘The more information I frankly hear from Commissioner Abraham the more convinced I am that money may have exacerbated the problem right now,’’ Perdue said.

He praised the work of the new commissioner — his choice to lead the department — to get to the root of the financial problems there.