Is there a “culture of cover-up” with the state Transportation Secretary and upper management at the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT)? A Rock Hill woman who serves on the South Carolina Transportation Commission says yes.
Sarah Nuckles, who represents the 5th Congressional District on the commission, told Rock Hill station WRHI that she has frequently been misled by staffers at the state agency.
“There were so many times that I got inadequate information or materials that were presented to us were incomplete or misleading,” she said, “It’s like if somebody asks you a question and you give them the specific answer to that question, but you fail to disclose some other very important or relevant information.”
Nuckles has publicly clashed with a majority of the board’s members, notably over $344 million in new projects she said were unnecessary and inappropriate with SCDOT’s recent financial struggles.
The agency has come under constant fire, especially from State Treasurer Curtis Loftis, after it had trouble paying its contractors on time over the summer. Transportation Secretary Robert St. Onge blamed an overaggressive construction schedule and too many projects coming due at the same time. The agency eventually had to get a $52 million lump sum advance on its federal reimbursements so it could pay contractors.
However, Nuckles blamed staff at the agency (including the previous Secretary H.B. “Buck” Limehouse) for “leveraging” SCDOT funds to stimulus projects and refinancing its highway bonds, which she said wiped out its cash reserves.
Under a state law passed in 2007, all road construction projects must be prioritized. However, Nuckles says the law still needs more controls on how fuel tax money is spent, because transportation officials often skirt around the rules.
AUDIO: Nuckles: Do we just want to say “let the politics decide?” (0:20)
Although SCDOT is part of the governor’s cabinet, most of its decisions on new construction are made by the seven-member commission. The commission consists of six members appointed by the Legislature (one from each congressional district) and one at-large chosen by the governor.
Courtesy of Andrew Kiel, Rock Hill radio WRHI.