November 25, 2015

Acting SC transportation secretary appointed to job permanently after floods

Governor Nikki Haley Wednesday appointed Christy Hall as the next Secretary of the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT).

 Christy Hall, South Carolina Department of Transportation Secretary. SCDOT photo.

Christy Hall (Image: SCDOT)

Hall was named Acting Secretary of Transportation in July when her predecessor Janet Oakley resigned following clashes with lawmakers. Hall has served at SCDOT for more than two decades, holding numerous management positions within the agency, including Deputy Secretary for Engineering and Deputy Secretary of Finance and Procurement.

The South Carolina Senate will have to approve Hall’s permanent appointment when they return next January.

She has been overseeing the department’s repair efforts after this month’s devastating floods.

“I look forward to the opportunity to continue our recovery operations as well as to work on some advancements as far as efficiencies and effectiveness of the organization going forward,” Hall said Wednesday.

Hall said that that they have reduced 72 percent of the closures that were present at the peak of the storm’s aftermath. She also said that they are still doing assessments and that some roads are still flooded and that more work needs to be done, and recovery will be her top priority.

She had served as an interim SCDOT chief before, after Haley’s first choice for the position was arrested on DUI-related charges in 2014. She took the post just days after much of South Carolina was hit by record amounts of ice accumulation that closed dozens of roads statewide. On Wednesday, Hall joked with reporters that she is glad South Carolina does not have “a volcano.”

Governor Haley praised Hall. “I am proud to say that Secretary Hall will not only be someone who we will look to see what she’s going to do going forward, but I would ask that you go and look to see what she’s done in the past, because if that’s any indication of the kind of leader she’s going to be, we are in for a great ride.” Haley said.

Legislators plan to meet on flood damage totals before acting

A small bridge in Forest Acres is considered unsafe after raging floodwaters washed out its supports (File)

A closed bridge in Forest Acres is considered unsafe after raging floodwaters washed out its supports (File)

State lawmakers plan to begin meeting next month on what steps they need to take to begin rebuilding South Carolina’s infrastructure after record floods this month.

House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Hartsville, said Wednesday he has been meeting with state agencies to get a better grip on damage amounts. “At this point in time, it is clear that full assessments and exact estimates for the damage done are not yet known and may take time to determine,” he said in a statement. “However, idly sitting back and waiting for these specifics is not an option. It will ultimately be the responsibility of the General Assembly to provide the means and method of recovery.”

The comments seemed to be in response to state Senate President pro tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, who told reporters Tuesday that he believed it was too early in the recovery process to call lawmakers back to a special session. The House and Senate are not scheduled to return for normal session until January.

The South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) said Thursday afternoon that more than 250 roads and bridges statewide remain closed due to flood damage. Crews have reopened roughly half of the routes that were shut down at the flooding’s peak on October 5.

Lucas said he has asked the House Ways and Means Committee to look into how the disaster has affected South Carolina. He said the committee will hold hearings with state agencies and other relevant entities to assess both the impacts of the flooding and the potentials costs of recovery.

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Canadian auto parts supplier to create 150 jobs at new Greenville plant

A Canadian auto parts supplier announced Wednesday it will to open a new plant in Greenville County, with state economic officials hoping the move will create more than 150 new jobs.

Magna International is a “Tier One” supplier for BMW and other auto companies, meaning it works with smaller parts manufacturers to provide the final sections for assembly. The company employs about 700 workers at its current facility south of Greenville.

The new plant will supply BMW with various exterior molded and painted assemblies. The company plans to move into its newly-constructed 165,000-square-foot facility in June 2016.

“We’re excited because any time a company decides to invest limited capital in a community they’re already in, it’s a testament to the viability of that community and the workforce,” Greenville Area Development Corporation President/CEO J. Mark Farris told South Carolina Radio Network.

The state Coordinating Council on Economic Development has approved a $250,000 grant for infrastructure along with job development tax credits, according to Department of Commerce spokeswoman Adrienne Fairwell. Greenville County has offered the company a fee-in-lieu of taxes agreement.

A Magna spokesman said the 153 new jobs would be hired over the course of several years after the new plant opens. Anyone seeking to apply for a job at the plant should visit the company’s website.

All of I-95 now open again after week of closure due to flood damage

SCDOT bridge inspectors examine the Pocotaligo River Bridge on I-95 last week. The bridge was one of those closed for the week after flooding began (Image: SCDOT)

SCDOT bridge inspectors examine the Pocotaligo River Bridge on I-95 last week. The bridge was one of those closed for the week after flooding began (Image: SCDOT)

South Carolina transportation officials reopened a section of Interstate 95 just north of Manning on Tuesday morning, meaning that through traffic is now able to drive the entire interstate for the first time since record flooding hit the state on October 4.

The South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) had reopened the southbound section of Interstate 95 a day earlier.

As the flooding became more severe, SCDOT initially closed I-95 to all traffic between Florence and the junction with Interstate 26 near Bowman. Most of that mileage was reopened to local traffic after a few days, but a 16-mile stretch between Manning and Sardinia remained closed to all vehicles.

Transportation Secretary Christy Hall said engineers had identified 33 “areas of concern” along that stretch of highway. Hall said contractors worked “daylight and dark” to get the interstate reopened and that freeing up I-95 had been her department’s top priority in the storm’s aftermath.

Officials said through traffic will no longer have to take a 60-mile detour along Interstate 26 to I-77 and Interstate 20 via Columbia.

Hall said the repairs are designed to be permanent. “We may come back at a later date and add some additional armoring to the repair,” she said. “But these repairs are intended to be permanent, safe and effective.”

In all, more than 300 roads and bridges across South Carolina remain closed due to storm damage. That number has been slowly, but steadily, declining from a high of 550 at one point last week.

Greenville-based bus manufacturer moving HQ to California

Officials with several transit agencies recently took a ride in Proterra's newest model earlier this summer (File)

Officials with several transit agencies recently took a ride in Proterra’s newest model earlier this summer (File)

Electric bus manufacturer Proterra has announced that it’s moving its headquarters from the Upstate to the Silicon Valley in California.

In a news release, the company said it will continue to manufacture the zero-emission buses in Greenville but hopes the move to California will bring its leadership closer to the region’s “innovation culture” and larger demand for costlier electric vehicles among West Coast transit agencies.

“The U.S. is in the midst of a complete reinvention of how we transport people and cargo and Silicon Valley is at the center of innovation in new powertrains and energy storage systems,” Proterra CEO Ryan Popple said in a statement. “As younger generations forgo car ownership and cities demand clean and quiet transit solutions, our goal is to help pioneer this movement.”

Proterra also plans to open a new assembly line in Southern California next year. The company said the California plant will allow it to double production capacity. It said more than 123 units have been ordered, roughly equivalent to the number of buses it has delivered in its brief history so far.

The company originally started up in Colorado back in 2004 before moving to the Upstate and establishing a new manufacturing plant five years ago. At the time, company leaders cited the close proximity to Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research (ICAR).