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Inspector General launches probe of Traffic.com contracts

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Transportation's Inspector General has launched an investigation of the Transportation Technology Innovation and Demonstration program--at the request of a pair of members of Congress, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y.--to determine whether the program, as administered by the Federal Highway Administration, fulfilled the goals set for it by Congress and whether FHWA met competitive procurement requirements that "intended to expand the number of firms providing surveillance services."

A brief announcement is here and the full release is here.

Congress launched TTID (the original alphabet soup name for the program was ITIP -- the Intelligent Transportation Infrastructure Program) in 1998, when it enacted the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), and appropriators set aside the vast sum of $8 million to build an Intelligent Transportation System in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. A company originally called Argus Networks, then Mobility Technologies, then Traffic.com, got the work. They're supposed to install sensors on highways and roads, and using them to track and publicize real time traffic information so commuters can avoid traffic jams.

In 2001, a pair of Pennsylvania politicians--Rep. Bud Shuster (since retired and replaced in office by his son) and Sen. Arlen Specter (still serving) earmarked an extra $50 million to expand the program to 25 more cities. Transportation tried to open the $50 million to competitive bidding, but a series of outraged letters from members of Congress made it clear that they'd already picked the winning bidder. (A lot of this history is covered in an April 2005 story in The Hill, which sadly does not seem to be online anymore but is quoted here; James Ridgway updates the story here.)

Traffic.com and its various parent companies (it's currently owned by Navteq) have been rather prolific lobbying clients --

Since 2000, the company, under its different names, has spent more than $900,000 on lobbying fees with at least 10 firms, according to Senate disclosure forms.

It will be interesting to see what the IG's probe turns up. In the mean time, I'm going to try to do a little reporting over the next couple of weeks to see if there are stones still unturned on this story. As a few of these links show, some fine reporters have already dug into it (as have others, I hasten to add) so I'm not especially hopeful. However, I'm supposed to get, in the next week or so, a hefty cache of Traffic.com documents from a FOIA request I filed nearly a year ago, so perhaps there's reason for optimism.